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The Mortician, The Murder, The Movie

A Texas widow worth millions found dead in a freezer, her companion, a mortician 40 years her junior, charged with murder -- it was a story right out of the imagination of a Hollywood screenwriter – except it was true

Produced by Jamie Stolz and Marc Goldbaum

CARTHAGE, Texas | One way or another, Bernie Tiede, has been dealing with death and darkness since he was 3 years old.

My daddy and my mother … they had a car accident, and my mother was riding in the passenger’s side of the car and daddy never forgave himself for that, he never forgave himself for that,” Tiede tearfully told “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant.

Bernie Tiede as a boy

Bernie Tiede as a boy

His mother dead, his father started drinking hard and died when Tiede was just 15.

“So a lot of death had occurred in our family,” he said.

Things only got worse for Tiede, who grew up in East Texas. He claims he was molested by his own uncle, Elmer Doucet.

“Twelve when my Uncle began molesting me,” said Tiede.

Doucet has always denied Tiede’s allegations.

“Did it darken your world in some way?” Van Sant asked.

“Yes, it did,” Tiede replied.

Bernie Tiede learned firsthand that the wounded, lonely, and those the dead leave behind, need comforting.

Carlton Shamburger is the owner of Hawthorn Funeral Home, where Tiede worked for nine years.

“He was very successful here at Hawthorn’s and as a funeral director overall,” said Shamburger.

He could do everything?” Van Sant asked.

He could. He was talented. He could do everything from makeup, hair. He could sing he could preach.

It would just be part of what inspired director Richard Linklater and actor Jack Black to collaborate on the darkly comic movie, “Bernie.”

He was on a lot of people’s lists to literally sing them to heaven,” said Linklater.

He knew how to take care of families,” said Shamburger.

He could connect that quickly,” Van Sant commented.

He could connect, yeah, exactly,” Shamburger agreed.

So it wasn’t long after 27-year-old Bernie Tiede arrived in Carthage back in 1985, that everyone seemed to know him.  From the dusty dirt roads where Jack Paine and Ira Bounds live…   

One of his excellent qualities was he was a gourmet cook,” said Paine.

I think that he was well thought of amongst the little old ladies in town,” added Bounds.

…. and at Comer’s Bar-B-Q … “He taught our Sunday School. He preached a funeral for us,” a customer said.

Even down at the court house, where local legend District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson ruled back then and still rules today … everyone sensed something good had come to town.

You think, ‘Gee, I’m glad this guy came here. He’s an asset to the community.’ Everybody loved Bernie,” said Davidson.

“Well, I enjoyed singin’ in the choir. And then I got active in the school here … in the drama department,” Tiede said.I was acting in the plays.”

And you were often times the star?” Van Sant asked.

Often times, yes,” said Tiede.

Did you feel loved in this community?”

Very much so. I felt very much loved,” said Tiede.

Locals Lisa and Susie Cockrell sum it up simply.

He was a God to this town,” said Susie Cockrell.

“Almost, people really saw him like that,” added Lisa Cockrell.

“He’s got a warmth. Got a magnetism,” said Black.

“He’s just a super generous sensitive guy, and is everybody’s best friend and just very helpful,” said Linklater.

Bernie Tiede

Bernie Tiede

Bernie Tiede always had that human touch. He knew just what to say to bring a smile to anyone who needed it. So when a grieving, vulnerable widow came to the Hawthorn Funeral Home, Tiede saw an opportunity to do what he did best.

“In 1990, the town’s leading banker and oilman, Rod Nugent, hard-nosed, tough, but fair businessman … dies,” said Skip Hollandsworth, who covered the case for Texas Monthly magazine. “And Bernie is in charge of his funeral.”

I embalmed his body and got him ready for the funeral,” Tiede explained.

And Mrs. Nugent arrives,” said Hollandsworth.

I met with her about the arrangements,” said Tiede.

Marjorie Nugent

Marjorie Nugent

Marjorie Nugent would one day be portrayed by Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine.                       

“I saw her to the gravesite. We had the funeral service there. And then I took her back to the car,” said Tiede.

“Are you thinking to yourself, ‘Well, we’ve parted ways, we did some business and never shall meet again’?” Van Sant asked.

Well, no, ‘cause that’s not how I conduct funerals,” Tiede explained. “As I often do with the widows, widowers, check on ‘em. Go by the house. Make sure they’re alright.”

Asked if they appreciated him dropping by, Tiede told Van Sant, “Oh very much so.”

“Well Marjorie wasn’t a huggy-type person,” said Ruth Cockrell, who would come to know as much as anyone in Carthage about the friendship of Bernie and Marjorie.

“Well, we were first cousins,” she told Van Sant.

“Were you guys close?”

“We got pretty close,” Ruth Cockrell replied

“Could Marjorie be difficult?” Van Sant asked.

“I think any of us can be difficult. I’m mean as an old settin’ hen sometimes,” she laughed.

“In small towns anywhere, your reputation is not often defined by who you are, it’s by what people think of you,” Hollandsworth explained, “and so the reputation did get around town that Mrs. Nugent could be cantankerous.”

“Could Marjorie be mean?” Van Sant asked Davidson.

“Yes sir, she could,” he said.

And another thing, newly widowed 74-year-old Marjorie Nugent was loaded with cash – as much as $6 million.

“She would kinda be called a blue blood,” said Davidson.

Bernie Tiede wasn’t about to be turned away.

I felt sorry for Marjorie, I really did,” he said.

Marjorie Nugent and Bernie Tiede

Marjorie Nugent and Bernie Tiede

And soon, Nugent and Tiede were seen on the scene -- the odd couple of Carthage.

We’d go to the Cherokee Club, we would go to the Jalapeno Tree here in Carthage,” Tiede recalled.

Yeah, they were a pair,” said Black.

And it wasn’t long before Nugent wanted more than a part-time dinner date -- and Tiede complied.

She asked me to leave the funeral home,” Tiede told Van Sant. “She just wanted more and more and more of me around.”

She actually hired Tiede and paid him a salary.

“There’s this notion out there that you were attracted to Marjorie’s money,” Van Sant noted.

Yes, I’m aware of that. That was not part of the deal. That was not part of my wanting to be around Marjorie,” said Tiede.

There’s members of Marjorie’s family that tell a different story,” said Black.

Just two hours up the road in Dallas, three proud granddaughters have a very different take on just why Bernie Tiede was befriending Marjorie Nugent.

Bernie Tiede is what?” Van Sant asked the women.

“A thief,” said Shanna Nugent.

“Everything that has been said about her is not her,” said Alexandria Nugent.

“He saw her as a mark,” she continued. “He stole her money … when he was about to be found out, he shot her and killed her.”

That is the real story,” Van Sant queried.

That is the real story,” Alexandria Nugent affirmed.

THE ODD COUPLE OF CARTHAGE

“Is this case about money?” Van Sant asked D.A. Danny Buck Davidson.

“Yes it is,” he replied.

Asked how so, Davidson replied, “I think that defines everything.”


The majestic gates swung open to a kingdom of riches, and Bernie Tiede rolled right in.

“I think the fatal mistake my grandmother made is she ended up buying a $30,000 headstone from Bernie Tiede, and from that moment he marked her,” said Shanna Nugent.

Within months of meeting at her husband’s funeral, Tiede was full time at Marjorie Nugent’s eye-popping home.

Helping her with anything that she needed help with,” he told Van Sant. “Make her coffee. Make sure she was up. She was alright.”

“He was there. He was there for her,” said Black.

They loved each other?” Van Sant asked Linklater.

Yeah. Bernie loves everybody. And I think he’s the one person in the world in that era … who could feel that for Marg, when no one else could,” he replied.

I never thought of them as lovey-dovey’s. Never. Just together, just friends,” said Ruth Cockrell.

I never saw ‘em kiss,” said Davidson.

And the D.A. probably never would, because there was something about Bernie that made folks wonder back then.

“I’m a gay man. And it’s hard to be a gay man and being out in a small town,” said Tiede.

“Did Marjorie know you were gay?” Van Sant asked.

“We never discussed it,” said Tiede.

“So what was the attraction?” Van Sant asked. “She’s 42 years older than you.”

“Right,” said Tiede.

He was targeting wealthy women,” said Susan Jenull, one of Nugent’s granddaughters.

“I think the attraction for Marjorie was the same as it was for everyone in town. He was just a loveable guy,” Black said. “And when you spend time with him you want to hang out with him.”

Less than a year after her husband’s death, Tiede and Nugent started hanging out big time, trading in the backroads for Broadway.

We’d go up on a Friday morning then come back on a Sunday evening,” Tiede said. “…we saw Broadway shows … We had a lot of fun together.”

Bernie Tiede, the mortician who made $24,000 a year, now had access to Marjorie Nugent’s 10,000 square foot mansion, her checkbook, and a world of opportunity.

They went on great adventures together,” Black said. “They had a ball together. They traveled the world.”

We went to …. Washington, Baltimore, and then took a cruise down the East coast,” Tiede reminisced. “We went to Germany … England … Scotland and Wales…. to Egypt. Went to the pyramids. …We just went everywhere.”

Was she having a good time,” Van Sant asked Hollandsworth

She was having a great time,” he replied.

He was her man servant … the guy hired to take care of her every need,” Black explained. “…clipped her toe nails, all the nitty gritty.”

And for Tiede, the perks kept piling up. Marjorie Nugent showered him with cash, clothing, cars -- even flying lessons and planes to go with it.

And in turn, Tiede gave gifts to the good people of Carthage.

He provided money. He provided scholarships,” said Hollandsworth.

“Doing good, doing a lot of good in Carthage,” said Ruth Cockrell.

“Turns out he was generous with Mrs. Nugent’s money,” said Davidson.

He was kind of the conduit to her generosity, to her better angel,” said Linklater.

marjorie-nugent-her-husban.jpg

Rod and Marjorie Nugent with their grandchildren

But the Nugent’s say their grandma never needed Bernie, or anyone, to teach her kindness.

“My grandmother was a loving sweet woman,” said Jenull.

And she was kind?” Van Sant asked the granddaughters.

She was,” Alexandria Nugent replied. “She was kind and she loved telling stories.”

This is really eye-opening, guys, to talk to you. This is really eye-opening, Van Sant remarked.

“In ‘93, we went there and she opened the door and she hugged me and kissed me like eight times,” said Shanna Nugent.

But whatever Marjorie’s affection for her granddaughters, the stakes were about to change. Marjorie Nugent filed a new will leaving everything to Tiede and nothing to her family.

“Did you encourage her to do that? Van Sant asked Tiede.

“No. She brought that to me—one day. It was in 1991,” he replied.

“Why would she do that?

“Well, I felt like she felt like she could trust me, I guess,”said Tiede.

It was on one of the next family visits to Carthage that the Nugent women got a hint of how deeply Tiede had moved into their grandmother’s life.

“Flash forward to 1994. We go to see her.  And she opens the door and goes, ‘I don’t know who you are,’” Shanna Nugent said. “And I go, ‘What do you mean you don’t know who we are?’ And she goes, ‘I don’t know who you are and you need to leave.’”

Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent

Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent on one of their many vacations

“And we went in and there were pictures of Bernie everywhere,” said Alexandria Nugent.

“And we said, ‘Who is this?’ You know, ‘Nanny, who is this?’ And she said, ‘Well, he’s my friend,’” she continued. “And the thing that disturbed me was that all of the pictures of my grandfather were gone.”

For Shanna, Alexandria and Susan, Grandma Marjorie’s new behavior was disturbing.

“She was like a schoolgirl in love,” said Shanna Nugent.

And the motives of her new companion deeply suspect.

We believe my grandmother was in love with Bernie and believed that he was in love with her,” said Alexandria Nugent.

When was the last time you saw your grandmother alive?” Van Sant asked the women.

“That visit in 1994,” Shanna Nugent replied.

And now they worried that Bernie was well on the way to tricking Marjorie out of millions.

“I think it’s the perfect example of a sweetheart scam that I have ever seen,” Shanna Nugent said. “My grandmother believed he loved her.”

“How do you know that?” Van Sant asked.

“’Cause I saw her,” she replied.

But Tiede tells a different story, claiming that after five years attending to Marjorie Nugent, the relationship had soured.  And that even though he had his own modest home, he felt trapped by Nugent and wanted out.  Tiede claims her 24/7 demands had turned into an abusive relationship.

She was very mean-spirited, very abrupt with me,” he said.

Could she be abusive?” Van Sant asked.

“Yes, very much so,” Tiede replied.

Was her place his gilded cage and she closed the door on that cage? Van Sant asked Linklater.

“Yeah, yeah, he replied.

Bernie Tiede

Bernie Tiede tells his story to :48 Hours”

We were in a heated discussion, I told her, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ … ‘I can’t be your friend anymore. I just can’t do this,’” Tiede explained. “She was very distraught. ‘You can’t leave me. You’re not going to leave me. No one has ever left me.’ … So I backed my car out of the garage. And by the time I got out there she had locked the gate on me. … Until finally I said, ‘OK, I won’t leave you. I won’t leave.”

“Just park your car, jump over the gate, run,” Linklater said. “But Bernie is not built for conflict. I think he takes it as his fate. ‘I can’t get away from this woman.’”

The door’s right there Bernie. But it’s not as simple as that,” Black explained of Tiede staying.

People get trapped,” Van Sant commented.

No exit. No way out. And at least according to Bernie, feeling like Marjorie Nugent’s prisoner reminded him of the abuse he says he suffered as a boy.

“In some ways did you feel trapped in this relationship, just as you had been trapped with your uncle?” Van Sant asked Tiede.

“Yes. Yes I did,” he replied tearfully.

“I think he is a killer. I think he has no remorse. I don’t believe a word that comes out of the man’s mouth,” said Alexandria Nugent.

WHERE’S MARJORIE NUGENT?

Bernie Tiede claims it pains him to recall how controlling and cantankerous Marjorie Nugent could be.

“I don’t like the things that she did. But I don’t like talkin’ about them either,” he told Peter Van Sant.

“Personally, I think he’s pure evil,” said Shanna Nugent.

“Let’s move now to November 19, 1996. Tell me about that day and what from your perspective led to the tragedy?” Van Sant asked Tiede.

“I had gone out to the house to make coffee. Early. 7:30. Got her up –” Tiede replied, as his attorney, Jodi Cole,  interrupted the interview.

“That’s enough of that. I don’t want you to talk about the shooting,” said Cole.

She would eventually become a big part of Bernie Tiede’s life, and how his story would be told.

“This is all public record,” said Van Sant.

“I don’t want him talking about the shooting … That’s enough,” she said.

Yet when “48 Hours” spoke with Tiede, Cole stopped him from telling those grisly details -- hard facts everyone from Carthage to Hollywood now knows.

“He shot her in the back four times,” said Davidson.

Shot Marjorie Nugent dead with a .22 caliber rifle.

“The first bullet in her back makes her paralyzed, so she falls straight down onto the concrete. He shoots her again. He then walks straight up to her body, puts the nuzzle to the gun to the back of her and shoots it two more times,” Shanna Nugent explained.

Those graphic details would be missing from the movie.

“I remember right before we shot that scene I went up to Jack Black and I said, ‘Have you ever killed anyone in a movie?’” director Richard Linklater told Van Sant.

“That was one of the hardest scenes in the movie. You see a scene like that in the script and you circle it in the calendar when you’re gonna shoot that and you think about it a lot,” said Black.

“I’m sorry that that happened in my life,” Tiede cried. “I had caused the death of somebody that I loved.”

Days turned into months, as Bernie Tiede kept his awful secret. And Marjorie’s family began to wonder, “What had become of grandma?”

“I started asking my dad, ‘Have you heard from Nanny, I can’t get her?’” Alexandria Nugent recalled. “And you know, ‘Maybe she’s on another trip. She’ll call when she gets back.’”

Marjorie Nugent’s granddaughters with Peter Van Sant

Marjorie Nugent’s granddaughters, from left, Alexandria, Shanna and Susan, talk with “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant.

48 Hours

And the Nugent women, all busy college students at the time, admit there was a reluctance to reach out to Grandma Marjorie.

“We had that strange encounter in 1994 where we didn’t feel welcome,” said Susan Jenull.

“And every Sunday he’d come and sit right beside me and give me a full report on Marjorie,” said Ruth Cockrell.

“And what were you thinking to yourself?” Van Sant asked.

“I’m thinkin’ you’re lying. That’s what I’m thinking,” she replied.

“I just made up one thing or another,” said Tiede.

“You told one she had Alzheimer’s, another she was in the hospital,” Van Sant noted.

“It was such a difficult time,” said Tiede.

“And Mama would tell us … what he’d been saying. And it’s like, ‘Mama, are you crazy?! He’s either got her locked up in the house poisonin’ her, or he’s already killed her,’” said Susie Cockrell.

“If I had gone to the police and then been proven wrong, I would have been laughed out of Carthage because people thought so much of Bernie,” said Ruth Cockrell.

“So week after week, month after month passes, Marjorie’s nowhere to be seen,” said Van Sant.

“Nine months. Nine months,” said Ruth Cockrell.

It was August 18, 1997, when the Nugent’s had finally shared their concerns with the local sheriff.

“I get a call from my dad … he and I drive down,” Alexandria Nugent said. “And it’s clear that no one’s been there for a very long time.”

So where was Marjorie Nugent?

“I wanted to check the freezer. My grandmother was a child of The Depression … so you didn’t waste food,” Alexandria Nugent explained.

So when Alexandria Nugent and the sheriff’s deputies got to the house, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. She knew that if her grandmother had left the house, she would have put everything she kept in the refrigerator in her freezer, located inside the pantry. She opened the door. And there it was.

The freezer in Marjorie Nugent’s pantry where her body was found

The freezer in Marjorie Nugent’s pantry where her body was found

“It was so quick. It was like I walked in and I said, ‘There’s tape on the freezer,” Alexandria Nugent continued.” And I threw the lid open.”

“She untaped it and raised it up,” D.A. Danny Buck Davidson said. “And there was the top of Miss Nugent’s head.

“I looked at my dad and I said, ‘They found her.’ And he just kind of did this,” Alexandria Nugent said, nodding. “… and all I wanted at that moment was my mom.”

Do I regret the fact that I didn’t rush down there to stop him from doing this? Yes. Because that’s what you do when you love someone and you find out that the person that they were in love with shot them four times in the back. And you think how could I have saved them,” said Shanna Nugent.

While a motive remained unclear, there was zero mystery about the prime suspect.

“Bernie’s name was top of the list,” said Davidson.

Bernie Tiede was easy to find. He was right in Carthage, at home, when the sheriff deputies showed up and brought him in for questioning. 

“I was so relieved when they came for me and arrested me,” he sobbed. “It felt like this big weight had been lifted off my shoulder.”

“How could you come to my house, eat my food, and sing hymns, and my cousin over there in the deep freeze?” Ruth Cockrell said of Tiede.

“It’s grim when, you know, you see an old lady on video being pulled out of her freezer. Those are images that stay with you,” said Linklater.

“And I think it took two days to thaw her out and for them to do an autopsy,” said Davidson.

That same day, Bernie Tiede confessed to Panola County Sheriff Deputies that he murdered Marjorie Nugent back in November of 1996. 

“There wasn’t a question in anybody’s mind. Everybody knew,” said Shanna Nugent.

Danny Buck Davidson would charge Bernie with first-degree premeditated murder and seek the ultimate penalty: life in prison.

And that’s when this twisted Texas tale really got strange.

“People in the community were comin’ in and sayin’ Bernie was a really good guy, if he killed her he had a reason for doin’ it. Poor Bernie. He had his groupies,” said Davidson.

“Some people are sayin’, ‘Hey let him go.’ Some people are sayin’, ‘No, put him away for life,’” said actor Jack Black.

“You just have never seen a story like this come across your desk ever. And people are still mystified about what really happened on that November afternoon that led Bernie to shoot her four times,” said reporter Skip Hollandsworth.

THE TRIAL OF BERNIE TIEDE

Bernie Tiede had preached and comforted and sang his way into this proud small town’s everyday life.

“Yeah, held a special place in the hearts of many people in Carthage, Texas,” said Jack Black.

Some folks even suggested Tiede was next door to the angels.

“And I said, ‘He’s an angel all right, he’s an angel of death,” said D.A. Davidson.

“As a prosecutor, you got a man who’s admitted he put four bullets in the back of a little old lady,” said Van Sant.

“Put her in a freezer and kept spendin’ her money while she was dead,” said Davidson.

“And you have a community saying, ‘Leave him alone,’” Van Sant noted.

“Right.”

“What would they say?” Van Sant asked.

“’Go easy on Bernie,’” said Davidson.

“It happened so often,” Hollandsworth said, “he asked for a change of venue.”

And he got one. The trial of Bernie Tiede for murdering Marjorie Nugent was moved 50 miles away. And in February of 1999, Danny Buck Davidson told his tale to a jury who had never heard about Tiede.

“I thought it was greed and betrayal,” Davidson said. “That’s what I sold to the jury.”

Bernie Tiede’s defense was that he killed Marjorie in an act of passion … that her murder was not premeditated.

“I don’t know what happened that morning,” Tiede told Van Sant in tears.

“The jury did not relate to him. They related to me,” said Davidson.

The trial lasted less than a week.

“How long did it take this jury to make its decision?” Van Sant asked.

“I think it took them maybe 20 minutes to find him guilty,” said Davidson.

Nine years after he met Marjorie Nugent at her husband’s funeral, Bernie Tiede was sentenced to life in prison.

“Which is the top max sentence. And I feel pretty good about it,” said Davidson.

“I deserved time,” Tiede said. “I’ve done a particularly horrible thing [cries] the worst thing in my life.”

Case closed. Except for this: Richard Linklater couldn’t get the tale of Bernie Tiede out of his head.

“And I ended up attending the trial … and started thinkin’ maybe there’s a movie here,” he told Van Sant.

Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth wrote the “Bernie” screenplay and brought it to Jack Black. 

“And he said, ‘Hey … I never told you about this thing that I’ve been obsessed with, this story about this fellow Bernie Tiede,” Black said. “And so I said, ‘Let me read this thing.’”

Black became so intrigued, he agreed to play the lead role -- but not before he and Linklater paid a visit to a Texas maximum security prison to try and understand just who Bernie Tiede really was. The visit was videotaped:

Jack Black: I wanted to come and meet you. I just think it’s important if I’m gonna play a real person that I should meet you.

Bernie Tiede: OK. …Bernie: I love to be around people. I’m just a people person.

Black wanted to know what made Tiede tick, right down to what he felt in the days after he murdered Marjorie:

Jack Black: That must have been incredibly stressful.

Bernie Tiede:  Good gracious.

Jack Black: That period with the walls closing in.

Bernie Tiede: You just have no earthly idea…. It was absolutely horrendous. … And I have to stay here unless something changes.

“You’re playing a person, you have access to them, you gotta go see them. It’s just one of the rules of the game,” said Black of the prison visit.

“I’m just very appreciative of them coming to meet me. It was just something that doesn’t happen in prison,” said Tiede.

The movie, “Bernie,” also featured Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson.

In April 2012, it premiered in Linklater’s hometown of Austin. Critics loved it.

 The Nugent family thought it was beyond offensive.

“This idea that my grandmother was a monster is ludicrous,” Alexandria Nugent said. “It was a complete lie.”

“It was devastating to us. I mean they took the most awful part of our lives and just laughed about it and joked about it,” said Susan Jenull.

And now, the Bernie Tiede story was about to take yet another bizarre twist that began right at the movie premiere.

“A little feisty lady comes up to me and she says, ‘I bet there was some crazy stuff going on at that trial,’” said Linklater.

She is appeals lawyer Jodi Cole.  And after watching the movie she got a hunch that the trial of Bernie Tiede had been a miscarriage of justice.

“I want the world to know that Bernie Tiede is a good person and that this outcome is unacceptable,” she said.

“I said, ‘Look at that. He snaps,’ Cole said of the scene in the movie where Tiede shoots Marjorie. “And so I thought, ‘Why did he get a life sentence?’”

Cole asked Richard Linklater if he had the transcripts from Tiede’s 1999 murder trial.

“He came with his box of transcripts,” she said.

“Put it on her desk. And it’s like, I don’t know. ‘Have at it,’” said Linklater.

Cole poured over the files, knowing that Tiede’s life sentence hinged on Danny Buck Davidson’s argument that the murder was premeditated.

“And within a few weeks she had come to see me,” said Tiede.

“Is there a miracle about to occur?” Van Sant asked.

“Yes, and Jodi Cole did a lot of work towards that miracle happening,” Tiede replied.

A SECOND CHANCE?

Sixteen years after he shot Marjorie Nugent dead, Bernie Tiede painted a picture for defense attorney Jodi Cole about how he felt that awful morning.

“That morning I felt like I wasn’t a part of the shooting,” Tiede said. “I felt like I wasn’t even there. And I have learned that is called a dissociative episode.”

“I think it’s the classic case of a kind of disassociated moment,” said Richard Linklater.

“That’s what this whole case hinges on,” said Jack Black.

 A dissociative episode -- the new-age term would break the case against Bernie Tiede wide open.

“They are overwhelmed with stress and emotion. They actually disassociate, which is to leave their body,” Cole explained.

And Tiede’s body, the theory goes, killed Marjorie Nugent without his mind taking part.

“And he shot her?” Van Sant asked Cole.

“Yes. Involuntarily,” she replied.

The Nugent family would have their own take on Cole’s ideas.

“Not connected to reality,” said Alexandria Nugent.

“Thoroughly confused,” added Susan Jenull.

“This woman had been abusing him for a very long time. And he stayed as long as he could and his body acted in a way to end that abuse,” Cole told Van Sant.

Tiede also confided in Cole, what he says is his darkest secret -- about that childhood sexual abuse he claims he suffered at the hands of an uncle.

Cole brought the findings to the D.A. And he was sold.

What do you conclude in terms of why this murder occurred?” Van Sant asked Danny Buck Davidson.

“The child abuse and the abusive relationship,” the D.A. replied. “I think that he did not plan on killing her.”

Davidson says if he had to do it all over again he would have sought a much lighter sentence.

“Twenty years would have been the maximum sentence. Not because Danny Buck wants 20. It’s what the law says,” he explained.

Davidson then went to bat for the killer he had once helped convict. And on May 6, 2014, Tiede’s life sentence is thrown out. A new sentencing trial is ordered, and Tiede is released from prison for the time being.

“Lots of miracles have happened in my life,” said Tiede.

The next miracle was in the parking lot.

“Mr. Linklater. He picked me up … and we drove to Austin,” Tiede said. “He put me up at his apartment at his home.”

“In some ways did Bernie become part of the family?” Van Sant asked the director.

“Yeah, very much,” he replied.

“I mean, did he ever babysit your kids?” Van Sant asked.

“Yeah,” said Linklater.

In Austin, Bernie Tiede went about creating a new life -- all on borrowed time. He joined the gay men’s choir and he became a regular at Pastor Sid Hall’s church.

“Our folks surrounded him like mother hens. Just loving him,” said Hall.

“He was definitely feeling the ecstasy of freedom,” said Black.

The Nugent granddaughters found it all beyond belief.

“My first thought is how is this happening?” said Susan Jenull.

“Rick Linklater is just as conned as my grandmother was,” said Shanna Nugent.

“I think I’m pretty unconnable,” Linklater told Van Sant.

“I think Danny Buck got enthralled with Hollywood,” said Alexandria Nugent.

“I’ll say that’s BS,” the D.A said.

Danny Buck Davidson recused himself.  For the new sentencing trial, he was replaced by two prosecutors determined to put Bernie Tiede back behind bars.

Jane Starnes and Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner weren’t buying it.

“This was just a straight up execution,” said Tanner.

“I think he’s conned Hollywood and the whole judicial system,” said Starnes.

They say Tiede didn’t have a “dissociative episode.”

“This case is about abusing elderly, vulnerable people,” Tanner said. “It’s about abusing Marjorie Nugent financially; it’s about just cold-blooded murder.”

Lisa Tanner would allege Bernie Tiede regularly forged Marjorie Nugent’s signature, manually manipulated her bank accounts, altered her brokerage statements. All of this both while Marjorie Nugent was alive, and after Tiede had killed her and stuffed her in her freezer.

“Millions. Plural. The numbers ended up being approximately $3.8 million total,” said Tanner.

Tiede’s motive for murder came into focus.

“He was about to be found out,” said Starnes.

In April 2016, after two years of freedom, Bernie Tiede’s new sentencing trial began. It was moved to Henderson, Texas, because Tiede still had so many friends and fans in Carthage.  Lisa Tanner took aim at Tiede – and Hollywood.

“This is a real case, with a real murderer. …He did that,” Tanner told the court. “So we’re going to talk about that in a non-fictionalized, non-Holywood-ized kind of way.”

“Hollywood means, you know, lack of morality,” Linklater told Van Sant. “But I took that really personally, ‘cause I don’t live in Hollywood. …I’m an indie Texas director.”

Linklater was called to the stand to defend his friend

“I think he is an incredibly nice generous man who did a horrible thing,” he testified.

The director and those who loved Bernie argued he had paid his dues with time already served.

“Sixteen years. Yeah, I’d say he served enough time,” said Black.

And Tiede’s uncle, under oath, denied ever having molested Bernie. But he did admit to writing Bernie a letter, sexual in nature.

Bernie Tiede at his sentencing trial

Bernie Tiede tears up as his uncle Elmer Doucet denies sexually abusing him as a child during Tiede’s new sentencing trial

Longview News

Tiede did not testify at the trial.

“I mean, I just -- there were -- there’re just some questions that don’t have any answers,” he said.

Two dramatic versions of Marjorie Nugent’s murder have now been told. One on the big screen, the other in a courtroom in Henderson, Texas. The question now is who will the jurors believe?

“Sudden passion. Dissociative episode. Snapping. That is what the original state’s witness told us occurred in this case,” Jodi Cole addressed the court in her closing statement.

“When he pointed that gun at Marjorie Nugent’s back, that justified the life sentence,” Tanner said in her closing.

Asked if he is a danger to society, Tiede told Van Sant, “No sir, not at all.”

“The jury goes out to deliberate, Alexandria. What’s going through your mind?” Van Sant asked.

“You know, all you can do is pray,” Alexandria Nugent replied.

On April 2, 2016, some 26 years after he met Marjorie Nugent, the jury once again sentenced Bernie Tiede to 99 years in prison. 

“Everyone in that courtroom knew that my grandmother was not mean. She did not deserve to die. And that this man deserved to go away for the rest of his life,” said Shanna Nugent.

“When I heard 99 years, I mean it was devastating,” said Linklater.

“He’s back in prison for life. It’s very discouraging,” said Black.

Now, what’s as certain as his life sentence is this: deep in the heart of Texas, Bernie Tiede is loved.

“Even today, is there a Bernie Tiede Fan Club in Carthage”” Van Sant asked Davidson.

“Yes,” he replied. “Not as big as it once was, but it’s here.”

Bernie Tiede will be eligible for parole in 2029. He will be 70 years old.

  • Peter Van Sant

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"