By Richard Yeakley
August 14, 2014
“Unjust,” “not right,” “bull crap.”
Those were among the phrases used by jurors called 15 years ago to determine guilt and dole out punishment in the Bernie Tiede murder trial after learning the former Carthage man walked free on bond.
“He confessed that he did it. We found him guilty. In the punishment phase we gave him a life sentence — that’s the max you can give him,” said Jessie Jacks, 63, who was jury foreman. “It was pretty much a cut-and-dry case. He killed a lady and put her in a freezer. ... Him getting out under these circumstances, I don’t think is right.”
During the February 1999 trial in San Augustine, it took Jacks and the rest of the jury less than an hour to return a guilty verdict and less than two hours to return a sentence of life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
After a hearing May 6, Tiede, 56, was released on two $10,000 bonds, based on a recommendation by District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson and defense attorney Jodi Cole that he be released on time served.
The decision will be reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminals in Austin, which may agree with the recommendation or order a new punishment trial for the murder of 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent.
“I just found it to be unjust because I was one of the jurors, and it was hard for me to try that case,” said Derolyn Lampkin Giles. “I was looking at the evidence I had seen, and for it to be turned around like it did just doesn’t seem fair.”
Richard Iler, who now lives near Houston, said he doesn’t understand the decision.
The terms of the release stipulate Tiede live in a garage apartment provided by director Richard Linklater, the Texas native whose feature film “Bernie” helped push Tiede’s hopes for early release from his life sentence.
“It would bother me no matter who he is living with,” Iler said. “But probably if this movie hadn’t have come about, would he be going through this? Would he be released? I doubt it.”
Tiede also must maintain a job and receive weekly therapy as terms of his release.
Giles said she isn’t comfortable knowing Tiede is walking the streets of Austin.
“That concerns me, because if he did it once, there is a chance he can do it again,” she said. “If anyone snapped to the point that he could take an innocent bystander’s life … they can do anything.”
Melvin Nagel said he believed the initial punishment should have been more severe.
“I think he should have had the death penalty, but that was not an option for the jury,” Nagel said. “He should serve the remainder of his term.”
The main reason Buck and Cole argued the charge and punishment were too severe was new evidence that Tiede had been sexually abused as a child.
The evidence was not known at the time of his 1999 trial, and Davidson said if it had been, he would have charged Tiede with second-, not first-degree murder.
The reason: Psychiatrists now say the shooting wasn’t premeditated, that Tiede had a “dissociative episode” relating to his earlier abuse.
Jurors said the revelation about Tiede’s past wouldn’t have affected their decision.
“It wouldn’t have changed my mind. That lady was 40 years older than he was,” Nagel said. “I don’t think that had anything to do with his childhood.”
Giles said she was still confident Tiede killed Nugent for her money, an argument that was a main facet of Davidson’s prosecution. In 1991, six years before her murder and two years before Tiede began to work full-time for Nugent, she named him her sole beneficiary.
“To me, he can say it was because he was abused as a child, but I truly feel it was because of much more than that. I truly feel it was her money,” she said.
Carolyn Marshall said it was possible Tiede had been rehabilitated — but agreed his past would still be a nonfactor in her judgment.
“That was a terrible thing to do, and then to go about your daily life and you know what you did,” she said. “I don’t think it would make a difference with me; that was a pretty bad thing to do.”
Jacks agreed, saying the recommendation may set a bad precedent.
“I wouldn’t have (changed my opinion), and I would have tried to convince anybody else, not to even consider that,” he said. “Is this going to set a precedent of everyone who is in prison who was molested or abused as a child asking for new punishment? ... What is good for one is good for all. They may be opening up a can of worms.”
The other jurors and alternates in the 1999 trial — Sallie Dennis, Laketra Randle Weathered, Dorothy Smith Goodwin, Willis K. Birdwell, Lisa Jeanette Davenport, Patrick Lewis Beyer, Mark Allen Henderson, Sharon Parks Crockett and Loue Crockett Mosby — were either unable to be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.
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