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Court denies appeal; Bernie Tiede sentencing stands

By Staff Reports
Aug. 10, 2017 at 1:44 p.m.
Updated Aug. 11, 2017 at 6:38 a.m.

Bernie Tiede during day nine of Tiede's new sentencing trial, on Monday April 18, 2016, at the Rusk County Justice Center in Henderson. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Bernie Tiede will remain in prison after an appeals court has affirmed a sentence handed to him in April of this past year.

The state’s 6th Court of Appeals affirmed the 99-year sentence issued to him in April 2016 by a Henderson jury. Tiede was convicted in February 1999 of the fatal November 1996 shooting of Marjorie Nugent, 81, of Carthage.

His initial sentence of life in prison was vacated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014 based on evidence that Tiede was molested as a child. Tiede, 59, received the new 99-year sentence after a three-week trial in April 2016 that was moved from Carthage to Henderson because of defense arguments that Panola County residents were biased against the formerly beloved choir director and community volunteer.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Josh Morriss, the court refuted the points argued by Tiede in his appeal.

Among those were that his 1996 confession was obtained under threat that police would expose the then-closeted homosexual and that a member of the grand jury who indicted him showed bias; that there was a 2014 agreement between his lawyers and Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson that he be released from jail based on the 15 years he already served; and that outbursts from Nugent family member during the 2016 re-sentencing trial biased the jury.

Mike DeGeurin, one of Tiede's attorneys, said Thursday that the 6th Court of Appeals' decision will be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

He said the ruling isn't the end to the appeal of Tiede's April 2016 sentence, but is "kind of the middle of it."

Jonathan Landers, another of Tiede's attorneys, said the defense has 30 days to petition the state Court of Criminal Appeals for the discretionary review.

"It is discretionary, because they don't even have to hear the case," he said.

The defense has argued that Nugent had taken control of Tiede's life, and he "snapped" when he shot Nugent — a wealthy widow who was his benefactress — four times in the back as they were about to drive to Longview to speak with a banker about her finances.

Tiede placed Nugent's body in a garage freezer and went about his life as if nothing happened. Her body was found nine months later.

The case was the subject of a feature film in 2011, "Bernie," directed by Texan Richard Linklater.

The movie was credited in helping Tiede get a new sentencing trial, and Linklater has been a vocal supporter of Tiede, even allowing Tiede to live in his garage apartment in Austin before this past year's trial.

Nugent's youngest granddaughter, Shanna, in a statement obtained through her lawyer, had praise for the ruling Thursday.

"Today, truth and justice were upheld and a Hollywood myth was finally proved to be what it was ... a myth," she said. "... Two juries heard the evidence in two separate cities 17 years apart and both reached the same conclusion."

Tiede remains in prison at the Telford Unit outside New Boston.

Calls to the state's special prosecutors in the 2016 trial, Lisa Tanner and Jane Starnes, were not returned Thursday.

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