‘Bernie’ jurors dispute convict’s early release

Bernie Tiede is led into the Panola County court house by law enforcement officials in Carthage, Texas, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. The former mortician serving a life sentence for the death of a rich East Texas woman could soon go free with the agreement of the district attorney who prosecuted him. Tiede, whose case inspired the movie “Bernie,” is expected in court in Carthage, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

CARTHAGE, Texas (AP) — Three of the jurors who convicted an East Texas man for the slaying of a rich widow disagree with his early release from prison and say they still believe he deserved a life sentence.

Bernie Tiede was set free on bond earlier this month after the district attorney who prosecuted him agreed to let him out of his life prison term.

The case inspired the dark comedy “Bernie,” starring Jack Black in the title role and Shirley MacLaine as Nugent.

A day after the release, KXAN spoke with Richard Linklater, director of the film many believe is responsible for getting Tiede released. A condition of Tiede’s release was that he must live with Linklater. Tiede has been ordered not to speak with the media.

“He confessed that he did it,” said Jessie Jacks, who served as the jury foreman. “We found him guilty. In the punishment phase we gave him a life sentence — that’s the max you can give him.”

Jacks and the other two jurors spoke to the Longview News-Journal days after Tiede was let out of prison for the killing of 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent, his longtime companion who was found dead in a freezer at her home nine months after her disappearance in 1996.

“It was pretty much a cut-and-dry case,” Jacks said. “He killed a lady and put her in a freezer.”

Tiede was a local mortician’s assistant in the East Texas town of Carthage who got to know Nugent after working at her husband’s funeral. The two began to spend time together and take trips around the world, until Nugent’s disappearance.

Jurors gave Tiede a life sentence, and he would not have been eligible for parole until 2027. But Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson earlier this month said new evidence that Tiede was abused as a child — and that he and Nugent had an emotionally abusive relationship — suggested he should be let out of prison early.

An Austin attorney who began to examine Tiede’s case after the “Bernie” movie eventually uncovered evidence that Tiede had been abused by an uncle. After a prosecution expert agreed with Tiede’s side, Davidson said it was appropriate to release Tiede after more than 15 years in prison.

Tiede’s case is being reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which still must formally sign off on the sentence reduction for it to be official.

Jacks said he still would have voted for a life sentence even knowing Tiede was abused as a child.

“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?” he said. “What is good for one is good for all. They may be opening up a can of worms.”

Another juror, Melvin Nagel, said he wanted to give Tiede the death penalty.

“That lady was 40 years older than he was,” Nagel told the News-Journal. “I don’t think that had anything to do with his childhood.”

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