December 2, 2014
By Olivia Levoy
AUSTIN (KYTX)- Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson received a letter today from the Nugent family demanding that he recuse himself from the forthcoming sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Bernie Tiede because Davidson has a conflict of interest and he lacks impartiality.
Tiede murdered Marjorie Nugent in November 1996, and last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Tiede's life sentence, which a jury gave him in 1997. Tiede's appeal came about because Davidson collaborated with Tiede's defense team, which is inappropriate for a prosecutor, the Nugent family says.
“Texas law imposes upon prosecuting attorneys the duty to avoid conflicts of interest and even the appearance of impropriety by deciding not to participate in certain cases,” the family says in the letter to Davidson. “We are concerned as to both your objectivity and the possibility that you may have violated ethical rules governing prosecuting attorneys in your zeal to see Mr. Tiede released from prison. We certainly have doubts about your objectivity in this matter, based on your well-known interactions with Richard Linklater and others associated with the movie 'Bernie,' your published statements and activities to date, and evidence in the possession of the Panola County Sheriff's Office—evidence you failed to disclose to the tribunal considering Mr. Tiede's habeas corpus application and endeavor to hide from the public. Simply put, we believe it absolutely essential for you to recuse yourself.”
“For the sake of keeping objectivity in Texas' criminal justice system, Davidson needs to recuse himself,” said Shanna Nugent, Marjorie Nugent's granddaughter. “Davidson is an elected official, charged with keeping criminals in prison and keeping our communities safe. Yet he openly collaborates with the defense team of a convicted murderer. That special treatment for a murderer should frighten every Texan, as well as everyone in Panola County.”
The family's letter to Davidson points out nine examples where Davidson acts in the best interest of the convicted murderer and either helps Tiede's defense team or hinders the Nugent family's ability to have a voice in the matter.
Those examples are found within the letter attached to this release.
What particularly illustrates the family's claims is how, according to Richard Linklater in an interview this summer in Variety magazine, Davidson worked with the murderer's defense team since 2011 to find evidence and create the basis of Tiede's appeal. Linklater made the dark comedy “Bernie” loosely based upon Marjorie Nugent's murder. And since the movie's release, Davidson has been working with Tiede's defense team. Linklater has said he is paying for Tiede's defense team.
“This establishes both a conflict of interest and a lack of candor toward the tribunal,” the family says in their letter.
Other evidence the family cites is Davidson's misrepresenting to the court about informing the Nugents about Tiede's appeal. Informing the victim's family about motion in a murderer's appeal is the District Attorney's duty. When the presiding judge asked Davidson at the initial hearing in May, Davidson said the Nugents had been informed about the hearing, which is not true. In fact, the family has been trying to speak with Davidson since December 2013, but Davidson has not returned calls or responded to any correspondence.
Additionally, the family cites the Panola County Sheriff who says Davidson has evidence that should be used to question the basis of Tiede's sudden passion appeal. The family says because Davidson refuses to examine evidence that Tiede executed Marjorie Nugent so he could continue to spend her money, or to even have a cross-examination of the evidence in Tiede's appeal, this disqualifies Davidson from serving in the new sentencing hearing.
“Davidson has rigged this appeal in favor of a convicted murderer by keeping the victim's family in the dark, by collaborating with the convicted murderer, by ignoring evidence and by hiding facts from the court,” said family spokesman Ryan Gravatt “Davidson is chasing Hollywood glory at the expense of Texas justice. He needs to recuse himself before he does more damage and enables Tiede to prey upon vulnerable victims again.”