Dick DeGuerin, one of the most colorful and accomplished lawyers in Texas, is as at home on the range as he is in a courtroom.
His success can be measured on his 150-acre ranch in the Texas hill country, complete with its prize longhorns, fine horses and vintage pickup truck.
DeGuerin is Celeste Beard’s lawyer now, and he’s dead certain as to just what this murder is all about. “It’s about obsession. It’s about a woman that became deathly obsessed with Celeste, and would do anything to have her.”
Were Celeste and Tracy lovers?
No, says DeGuerin. “Tracey wanted it, but Celeste rebuffed her,” he says. “She had this fantasy of being Celeste’s lover.”
“I never had sex with Tracey,” says Celeste. “Never.”
Despite their difference in age, Celeste is adamant that she was attracted to much more than Steven Beard’s wallet.
“I never saw myself as pretty. I never saw him as obese,” says Celeste. “I never saw him as 70. And he said, being around me made him young.”
And according to friends like Marilou Gibbs, the marriage was a good one.
“Celeste loved Steve very much,” says Marilou. “Steve gave Celeste something she’d never had in her life, unconditional love, a man who no matter what she did. He thought it was terrific.”
Marilou became like a surrogate mother to Celeste. She understood exactly why the 70-year-old millionaire believed he’d finally found his dream girl.
“You can’t meet and be around Celeste without loving her,” says Marilou.
Marilou and her daughter, Dana, witnessed the good life Steven gave his new bride. The friends socialized together at the couple’s new weekend house, and at the mansion the newlyweds built in Toro Canyon, one of Austin’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
“They had fountains and everything. And bronze statues,” says Marilou. “It was gorgeous.”
“I had everything with Steven. I could have spent, and I did, on whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I did whatever I wanted,” says Celeste.
Steve Beard was her savior. She loved him. He loved her.
A fairy tale unfolded, and Celeste, the former waitress, now lived like a queen.
“A lot of my spending was compulsive,” says Celeste, who had probably 400 purses – one to match each pair of shoes she had. She says that the biggest tab she ran up in one day was $50,000.
“Celeste is not a gold-digger. She did spend a lot of money,” says DeGuerin, Celeste’s lawyer. “And Steve showered money on her. They were happy. She made him happy. He made her happy. He gave her anything she wanted.”
So how could Tracey Tarlton ever describe Celeste as the selfish, manipulative mastermind of a murder?
“She’s sick, sick, sick,” says DeGuerin. “And everybody that’s ever seen her has said that.”
This included a string of doctors and psychologists who over the years had diagnosed Tracey as being mentally ill.
“My diagnosis is bipolar with psychotic tendencies,” says Tracey, who said she has heard voices in the past, telling her that she needed to kill herself. “You know you need to end it. This is the right thing to do.”
According to this psychological report from the Menninger Clinic, in Topeka, Kan., Tracey was also prone to substance abuse and depression. And doctors confirmed her suicidal tendencies.
“Suicidal, I’ll go with that,” says Tracey. “I have been suicidal many, many years. You know and still am sometimes.”
In 1999, Tracey sought treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Austin. Within hours, she met a fellow patient who also had a troubled past. That patient was Celeste Beard.
“I was severely depressed,” says Celeste.
Clinical depression had in fact haunted Celeste. She alleges her problems stemmed from a troubled home, a disturbing childhood and claims of sexual abuse. And as Celeste grew up, she began to slip from an “A” student, to a deeply troubled adolescent.
A series of failed marriages, dead-end jobs and mental health problems that included post traumatic stress disorder and major depression continued through her adult life.
She’s taken pills, and she’s even cut her wrists. “Wanting to live is a struggle sometime,” says Celeste.
It was this Celeste, not any Cinderella, who met up with Tracey in a hospital ward. Two women, both mentally ill and emotionally vulnerable.
“She was needy and I was needy too,” says Tracey. “We became friends.”
And it didn’t bother Celeste when Tracey told her she was a lesbian.
“I didn’t look at her as Tracey the lesbian,” says Celeste. “I looked at her as Tracey my friend. She was kind. And she could be considerate.”
“Celeste was extremely flirtatious with me from the beginning,” says Tracey. “And I responded in kind. Eventually she came into my room and kissed me. She wanted to have a sexual relationship with me.”
But Celeste calls this all fantasy. “Obviously. Because she didn’t do that with me.”
Whatever the true nature of their relationship, it would continue when they were both discharged from a psychiatric hospital in Austin.
But, if Celeste knew that Tracey was mentally troubled, that she had been delusional and heard voices, why did she decide to bring her into contact with her family?
“Well, obviously I was making bad judgments,” says Celeste.
According to the district attorney’s office, Celeste’s bad judgment went way too far. And on March 29, 2002, more than two years after Steven Beard died, Celeste was charged with plotting her husband’s murder.
Celeste denies ever manipulating Tracey into shooting her husband. “I had no idea Tracey was homicidal.”
The jury would have to grapple with more than just murder and an alleged lesbian relationship. They’d have to somehow see through the smoky haze of mental illness. What would the truth even look like?
“In the end, this case stands or falls with the believability of Tracey Tarlton,” says DeGuerin. “She’s testifying to save her own skin. She’s delusional. She’s crazy.”