November 3, 2014
By Rebecca Lopez
His name is Bernie Tiede. A confessed killer. The subject of a Hollywood movie. And now there is a possibility he could go free.
"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, the son of Marjorie Nugent.
Imagine being the the family of Marjorie Nugent. The woman Tiede murdered.
"Essentially everyone views the movie as truth," said Alexandria Nugent, Marjorie's granddaughter. "There is nothing about the movie that is true other than the fact that Bernie murdered by grandmother."
In 1997, Marjorie 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.
"There was masking tape on the freezer and I broke the masking tape with my fingers," Alexandria Nugent said. "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," Nugent said.
That night, authorities arrested her longtime friend and caretaker, 38-year-old Bernie Tiede, who confessed to the murder.
Tiede talks about the murder in a YouTube video from the Longview Journal, published 15 years after the crime.
"I did something horrible," he says in the video.
The murder shocked the town, as Bernie was a pillar. Many of the townspeople came to his defense.
Still, a jury convicted him and sentenced him to life. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson called him a "cold-blooded killer."
"How can you do what he did -- put them in a freezer -- and go on as if they weren't alive," Davidson said.
The story caught the attention of Hollywood producer Richard Linklater who made a dark comedy about Tiede starring Matthew McConaughey as District Attorney Buck, Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie, and Jack Black as Bernie.
"They took the worst moment of my life and made a joke out of it," Alexandria Nugent said of the film.
The 2011 movie made Tiede a sympathetic figure and made the district attorney famous. Buck was seen at Hollywood premieres and press junkets with McConaughey.
"I think he got very enticed by Hollywood," Alexandria Nugent said of Buck. "I think he got very enamored locking arm and arm with Matthew McConaughey."
The family says Linklater and Buck, who changed his mind about Tiede, teamed up to come up with a reason to set him free.
In May, they went before a district court in Tyler, Texas. Buck, then in support of Tiede, presented what he says is "new evidence." He claimed Tiede was sexually abused as a child and killed Marjorie in a moment of passion, and said 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 of Marjorie's granddaughters.
But a judge in Tyler released Tiede and ordered a new sentencing trial. 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 says Tiede's motive was greed. Before her death, he stole $3 million of her money and they have the ledgers to prove it. Tiede continued to spend another million dollars 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 if they will uphold Tiede's release and give him a new sentencing trial or send him back to prison.
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