Dallas Morning News
By Tod Robberson
Hopefully, film director Richard Linklater has a good security system on his home in Austin. But more than that, I hope he doesn’t do anything that his back-house tenant, murderer Bernie Tiede, might regard as mean. Not only would Linklater’s life be in danger, his film fortunes might well wind up funding yet another Bernie Tiede spending frenzy like the one he went on in 1996 and 1997.
The last person Tiede befriended to this degree was 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent. When she and her banker began questioning his massive expenditures of her money — to the tune of millions of dollars — he decided that she was mean. In his confession, he admitted to planning out how he would kill her. On the day Nugent and Tiede were supposed to meet with her banker to come to terms with Tiede about his expenditures, he followed her out to her garage, grabbed a shotgun, then shot her in the back. The blast severed her spine, and she collapsed on the garage floor, alive. He finished her off with more shotgun blasts, then stuffed her body into her garage deep-freezer. That was on Nov. 19, 1996.
Look at the dates on the two checks above: Nov. 20, 1996 and Dec. 3, 1996. They were miraculously signed and dated by a dead woman stuffed inside a garage freezer. They were made out to Beta Tau Systems. Beta and Tau, of course, are the Latin initials for BT, or Bernie Tiede. Investigators collected these checks as part of a massive treasure trove of evidence on Tiede that they have sat on since the murder, even though it’s common knowledge that Tiede continued to steal from the Nugent estate long after he killed Marjorie Nugent.
The Nugent family obtained copies of these checks in a partial release of evidence years ago. They are awaiting decision by Attorney General Greg Abbott on a request for an additional release of documents, videotapes and other items removed from Marjorie Nugent’s and Tiede’s residences. Assuming the attorney general supports the release of those items, it’ll take weeks for them to go through everything as they piece together what Tiede did with Marjorie Nugent’s money.
The fact that he stole from her before he killed her, and continued to steal from her afterward, contradicts his lawyer’s argument that the murder was the result of some kind of dissociative, out-of-body episode related to sexual abuse he might have received as a child. He killed Marjorie Nugent in cold blood. He was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Yet Tiede is free today, living on Linklater’s property, because of a starry-eyed prosecutor, Danny Buck Davidson, who appears to have placed a greater priority on fame and friendship with Linklater than on justice. Linklater hired actor Matthew McConnaughey to portray Davidson in the hit film “Bernie.” Davidson shirked his chief responsibility as the district attorney of Panola County and instead worked with Tiede’s attorney to arrange for the confessed murderer’s release after serving only 15 years of his sentence.
You can like him on Facebook. You can like the film all you want. I loved it. You can even sympathize with the Bernie character played by Jack Black in the film. And if you like, you can hate the mean old woman that Shirley MacLaine depicted in the film. This was not a documentary; it was a work of fiction based on Hollywood actors’ reconstruction of events. In real life, Bernie Tiede killed in order to avoid accounting for millions he stole from Marjorie Nugent.
The fact that he is out of prison today is not just a travesty of justice, it represents a clear and ongoing danger to the general public. We have zero assurance that Tiede won’t do this again. That’s why he belongs behind bars, where the jury intended for him to be. An appeals court will decide soon whether to send him back to prison or override the jury’s verdict and let him continue to evade serving his full sentence. Let’s hope the appeals panel grasps the injustice that the Nugent family has been dealt and puts this killer back where he belongs.
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