November 3, 2014
DALLAS — The family of a Texas widow who was killed in 1996 is outraged that her convicted killer could be free forever.
The case attracted the attention of Hollywood, with the story of Bernie Tiede made into a movie.
Tiede was sentenced to life for killing Marjorie Nugent, 81. But earlier this year, he was released after the district attorney and the movie's producer worked to free him.
In 1997, Nugent's body was found by her family, stuffed in a freezer in her home in Carthage, Texas. Her body had been there for months. Nugent disappeared in 1996.
"There was masking tape on the freezer and I broke the masking tape with my fingers," said Alexandria Nugent, a granddaughter of the victim. "And I will be honest with you, for the next two minutes I don't know what I saw."
Her family was in shock by the discovery.
"It was one of those moments where the world stopped for a moment," she said.
That night, authorities arrested Tiede, Marjorie Nugent's longtime friend and caretaker, who confessed to the murder.
The murder shocked the town, as Tiede was a pillar of the community. Many residents came to his defense.
However, a jury convicted him and sentenced him to life.
District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson called him a "cold-blooded killer" at the time.
"How can you do what he did — put them in a freezer — and go on as if they weren't alive," Davidson said.
Hollywood producer Richard Linklater made a dark comedy called Bernie. It starred Matthew McConaughey as Davidson, Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie Nugent, and Jack Black as Tiede.
"They took the worst moment of my life and made a joke out of it," Alexandria Nugent said of the film.
"Essentially everyone views the movie as truth," she said. "There is nothing about the movie that is true other than the fact that Bernie murdered my grandmother."
The 2011 movie made Tiede a sympathetic figure and made the district attorney famous. Davidson was seen at Hollywood premieres and press junkets with McConaughey.
"This is a guy that shoots an 80-year-old woman four times in the back and in a movie he is a big hero," said Rodney Nugent, Marjorie's son.
Nugent's family said Linklater and Davidson, who changed his mind about Tiede, teamed up to come up with a reason to set Tiede free.
In district court in Tyler, Texas, in May, Davidson presented what he said was "new evidence." He claimed Tiede, now 55, was sexually abused as a child and killed Marjorie Nugent in a moment of passion, saying Tiede should get a new trial.
"You can't allow a defendant to withhold evidence at his own trial and then claim later that is the reason that he should be released," said Shanna Nugent, another granddaughter of the victim's.
A judge recommended that Tiede's sentence should be reduced and released him on $10,000 bond. Tiede is now living with Linklater in his Austin home.
"We were victimized when she was murdered; we were victimized again by the movie, and then this May when they let him out of prison," Rodney Nugent said. "We've been victimized a third time and we are very angry."
Nugent's family said greed was Tiede's motive for killing Nugent. Before her death, he stole $3 million of her money, the family said. Tiede continued to spend an additional $1 millions of her money in the months after her murder.
He wrote a check for $30,000 just days after she was killed.
"The only other thing I really want to say is that Hollywood shouldn't get to supplant the Texas justice system," Alexandria Nugent said.
Nugent's family says Tiede took advantage of a lonely widow and is now trying to take advantage of the justice system.
"You are allowing a defendant to basically game the system," Shanna Nugent said.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will vote soon to decide whether they will uphold Tiede's release and give him a new sentencing trial or send him back to prison.
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