Late last Friday, after three long weeks of trial, a Rusk County jury sentenced Bernhardt Tiede, II to a life sentence for his murder of elderly widow Marjorie Nugent. This was the second time a jury sentenced Tiede to a life sentence; the first time was in 1999.
Tiede, of course, gained fame from the 2011 dark comedy “Bernie,” based on his version of events. The movie became a cult hit, and renewed interest in what had been a fairly open-and-shut case.
Two years ago, a court granted Tiede a new punishment hearing after an attorney saw the movie and took on his cause. Tiede spent his time awaiting the hearing living in director Richard Linklater’s garage apartment.
Lost in all of the Hollywood glamour, however, was the very real pain felt by the family members of Marjorie Nugent. And also lost was the concept of justice for a murder victim.
“Justice 1, Hollywood 0,” her granddaughter, Shanna Nugent, told reporters after Tiede was given another lifetime sentence for the murder late last week. “I wanted to stand up for my grandmother because she didn’t deserve to be killed, and she didn’t deserve to be made a fool of.”
We’re proud the Texas Office of the Attorney General played a key role in securing that sentence.
Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Tanner, Jane Starnes, and Daniel Brody stepped in when the Panola County District Attorney recused himself, and faced significant challenges in ensuring Tiede returned to jail.
They went back to basics, and – to borrow a long-respected tenet of investigating – they followed the money.
That necessitated a full forensic reconstruction of how Tiede was spending Marjorie Nugent’s money when the widow was still alive. The work was done with the help of Stephen Thompson, a financial investigator for the OAG who was instrumental in securing the verdict.
You can imagine how difficult this would be, with records nearly two decades old created by a criminal who had been intent upon covering his tracks in the first place.
Placed in context with the other evidence our prosecutors established at trial, they were able to successfully establish that Tiede’s scheme to drain Marjorie Nugent of her money was running out of time. His attempts to keep her in the dark about his financial crimes against her were becoming more and more desperate, and it was inevitable that she would find him out.
So, with premeditation, he shot her four times in the back.
The jury saw the crime was not as it was presented in the film. As amicable as Tiede could appear to be, he remains a man who targeted an aging widow with the intent of stealing and spending her money. It was, put simply, a con long gone bad.
Hollywood can’t change the facts of the real crime.
Unfortunately, what they did do was demonize the victim of this crime, who was a trusting, elderly woman lonely for companionship.
If any awareness need be raised by this story, it’s the fact that elder abuse is rampant. Our office, in fact, is playing a key role in sounding the alarm, investigating abuse against elders who are in long-term care facilities, and connecting other abused parties to the proper authorities. It’s a very real problem for seniors across Texas who don’t have access to the publicity Hollywood can generate.
Seniors, like Marjorie Nugent, have a right to be safe from exploitation, abuse and neglect. That’s a story that should be told long before Bernie Tiede’s.
Instead, not only did Marjorie’s family suffer her loss, they also had to see her character assassinated on film. As happens all too often, when people see something on film, they assume it to be true.
Shanna Nugent told reporters she was glad her grandmother was finally portrayed as her real self, and not as Hollywood portrayed her. She was, Shanna says, smart, stubborn and hardworking, whose love for her family transcended all.
And she definitely deserved a better fate than being murdered and stuffed into a freezer for nine months.
We’re proud the Office of the Attorney General played a role in bringing Tiede to justice … again.