August 2, 1958
|Occupation||Assistant funeral director|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at the John B. Connally Unit (as of 2021[update])|
|Parent(s)||Bernhardt Tiede and Lela Mae Jester|
|Criminal penalty||99 years or life|
Bernhardt Tiede II (//; born August 2, 1958) is an American mortician who was convicted of the November 19, 1996 murder of his companion, wealthy 81-year-old widow Marjorie "Marge" Nugent, in Carthage, Texas. He was 38 at the time of the murder.
These events are the subject of the critically acclaimed film Bernie (2011), a dark comedy directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black as Tiede. The film attracted attention to Tiede's case, and new evidence was discovered. He was temporarily released on bail in 2014, pending a resentencing hearing. Despite the new evidence, Tiede was sentenced to 99 years or life.
Family and early life
Bernie Tiede is the son of Bernhardt Tiede (1912–1973), a native of Olegnow, Volyn Oblast, Ukraine. Of German descent, Tiede had immigrated in 1926 as a child with his family to the United States. The elder Tiede had served as a professor of music and choral director at Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas (1946–1948), at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas (1948–1957), at Kilgore College in Kilgore (1957–1968), and then McMurry College in Abilene, where he served as director of the McMurry Chanters until his death. In addition to his work as a university professor, the elder Tiede also served as church music director and as a vocal performer. Bernie Tiede's mother was his father's first wife, Lela Mae Jester (1933–1960). They married in 1957, and Bernie was born in the next year in Abilene. Jester was killed in an automobile accident when the boy was two years old.
In 1963, Tiede's father married Clara Kathryn Wiley (b. 1938), who became his stepmother. His father died in Abilene when Tiede was fifteen. Tiede graduated from Cooper High School in 1976. He became a mortician, working in Carthage as assistant director of the Hawthorn Funeral Home. He was very popular in the town.
Tiede met the wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent, in March 1990 at her husband's funeral, which Tiede had helped arrange as assistant director at Hawthorn Funeral Home. The two eventually became inseparable companions, although she was more than 40 years his senior. In 1991, Nugent altered her will, and disinherited her only child, Rod Nugent, leaving her entire $10 million estate to Tiede. By 1993, Bernie left his job to work for Nugent full time as her business manager and travel companion.
In November 1996, Tiede killed Nugent by shooting her in the back four times with a .22 caliber rifle. He placed her body in a freezer used to store food at her Carthage home. According to the Amarillo Globe-News, Nugent's estranged son, Rod, an Amarillo pathologist, had grown concerned about not being able to reach his mother. After traveling to Panola County nine months following her death, Rod declared Nugent a missing person. He and his daughter entered his mother's house, where they found her body in the freezer.
Tiede was taken in for questioning, and he admitted to Nugent's murder to police in August 1997. He said that after the murder, he had prepared the body, and placed it in a freezer. After this, Tiede acknowledged using Nugent's money for civic activities, gifts to academic and civic groups, and to friends. She had given him power of attorney over her funds. A jury convicted Tiede of first-degree murder, and sentenced him to 50 years in prison. When he appealed his sentence, the appellate courts ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to have found premeditation, a condition of the charge.
After the film Bernie (2011) was released, attorney Jodi Cole became interested in Tiede's case and met with him, filing a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus, in which Tiede alleged that his constitutional rights were violated in the first trial because of newly discovered evidence. He further alleged in the writ that the 81-year-old Nugent was controlling and emotionally abusive toward him, and that he had murdered her in a dissociative state resulting from years of sexual abuse as a child by an uncle. The Texas Criminal Courts of Appeal approved the writ. According to Rod, Tiede had alienated Nugent from her family, friends, and business associates of her late husband. He told the Globe-News: “It appears this Bernie Tiede kind of systematically estranged my mother from all these people one at a time ... At some point, they became angry with my mother.”
When interviewed, Panola County District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson said that the town of Carthage was “split up” in regards to their opinion of Tiede. Davidson recounted to the Longview News-Journal, “People remember [Tiede] as being real nice and doing nice things, and they'd like my office to go real easy on him. And then, there's a group that wants no mercy.”
Imprisonment and release
Shortly after entering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1999, Tiede was attacked by fellow inmates. During his imprisonment, he was described by a prison official as “a model prisoner.” He taught health classes and participated in the prison's choir. Until May 2014, he was serving a life sentence.
In May 2014, Davidson and a visiting Judge Diane DeVasto of Tyler allowed Tiede to be released from prison that month on $10,000 bail, after his attorney, Jodi Cole, had learned that Tiede had been sexually abused as a child for multiple years by an uncle. Cole theorized that Tiede shot Nugent while in a brief dissociative episode brought on by her abusive treatment of him, a theory backed by forensic psychiatrist Richard Pesikoff.
Mr. Tiede’s ability to repress and compartmentalize the abusive events from childhood and adolescence was ultimately overwhelmed by the repeated and extensive psychological abuse he suffered from Mrs. Nugent. The end result, his loss of control over his emotions and behavior, is evidenced in his final actions toward Mrs. Nugent.
—Richard Pesikoff 
It's also been suggested that Tiede's handwritten confession (a major factor in the murder being considered first-degree) was strongly influenced by the prosecution's threats of leaking private videotapes of Tiede. When presented with the new evidence, Davidson agreed that, had he known this information in the original trial, he would have sought a lighter sentence.
Nugent's family learned about Tiede's release through media reports. Her granddaughter expressed shock that the release was granted, and claimed that Richard Linklater's 2011 film Bernie had influenced the legal system. The Nugent family created a website to honor Nugent's memory, posting photos of her and articles relating to her murder.
Between the time of his release in 2014 and his resentencing hearing in April 2016, Tiede resided in Austin, Texas, at the garage apartment of filmmaker Richard Linklater, who had offered to assist him; this was a condition of his release.
The resentencing trial began on April 6, 2016. During the resentencing trial, Marjorie's granddaughter, Shanna Nugent, spoke directly to Bernie, and stated, “You are nothing to me.” Shanna and her father, Rod Nugent, both asserted that Marjorie was a kind woman on good terms with her family (in contrast to the portrayal in the film), whom Tiede conned in order to spend her fortune without her knowledge.
Other witnesses' testimonies differed. For instance, Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo testified that in a conversation he had with Marjorie between 1991 and 1996, she spoke favorably of Bernie's spending, as she proclaimed, “I’ll spend every dime [of my money] before I leave it to my family.” Merrell Rhodes, the victim's sister, recalled of Marjorie, “I was always afraid of her... I never forgot that she was my sister... I always loved her as a sister, actually, even when she did ugly things, and she did.” Merrel's son, Joe Rhodes, attested to the movie's accurate portrayal of his aunt. He noted several acts of his aunt's abusive behavior toward him in The New York Times article titled “How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze.”
On April 22, 2016, the jury of ten women and two men issued a new sentence of 99 years or life for Tiede. After three weeks of testimony, they had deliberated for just over four hours.
Appeal and incarceration status
A week after his resentencing, his lawyers filed an appeal to the court's decision. In June 2016, the 1997 theft charge against Tiede was dropped. In August 2017, a Texas appeals court upheld the 99-year prison sentence.
Tiede resided in the Telford Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for at least 15 years. As of 2021[update], Tiede was incarcerated at the John B. Connally Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Kenedy, Texas, for several years. He currently resides at the Estelle Unit. He is not eligible for parole until August 3, 2029, which is the day after his 71st birthday. (Retrieved on June 5, 2022.)
- Hollandsworth, Skip (January 1998). "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
- "Man convicted of murdering companion, stuffing body in freezer". Amarillo Globe News. 10 February 1999. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
- This may have appeared on older maps as Olgenowka, just east of Rozhyshche, in the region of Volhynia, Ukraine, which was part of the Russian Empire until 1921 when it became part of the Soviet Union. There was a colony of German settlers in this area; cf. Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls. Census Place: Pendleton, Umatilla, Oregon; Roll: T627_3380; Page: 61A; Enumeration District: 30-37. See also the reference below to Tiede in the passenger list for the Columbus, which gives his place of birth as "olgenow" (sic). An article in the Abilene News-Reporter gives his place of birth as Ukraine: "'Chanters' Director Here Through Fate" (November 23, 1969, Abilene Reporter-News p. 12-C).
- Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Cf. also "'Chanters' Director Here Through Fate". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene. November 23, 1969., p. 12-C
- "'Chanters' Director Here Through Fate". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene. November 23, 1969., p. 12-C
- "Former McM Music Prof, Bernhardt Tiede, Dies". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene. November 23, 1973.
- Dallas Morning News, "State Deaths" (November 11, 1961, p. 5).
- Gregg County marriage records, book 35, page 229; cf. Abilene Reporter-News, "Former McM Music Prof, Bernhardt Tiede, Dies" (November 23, 1973, p. 16-A). Clara Kathryn Wiley is listed with her family in the United States Census for 1940 (see information above), Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas, sheet number 46a, and she is shown in the Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (Texas: Texas Department of State Health Services), p. 2161. This shows her birth date as 19 November 1938, and her parents’ names as Cass Wilner Wiley and Mable Glynn Allison.
- 'mean-bernie-film-features-cooper-grads-unlikely' Abilene Reporter-News for 26 April 2012
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- "Ex-Mortician Whose Killing of Widow Inspired Movie Freed Early". NBC News. Associated Press. May 6, 2014. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
- "Writ of Habeas Corpus Hearing (1)".
- "Bernie Returns!". www.texasmonthly.com. 2014-01-25. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
- ex-texas-mortician-being-freed-from-prison-early kxan.com ('Our European visitors are important to us.')
- Nicholson, Eric (May 7, 2014). "As 'Bernie' Goes Free, Victim's Granddaughter Says Hollywood Has Wrought an Injustice". Unfair Park. Dallas, Texas: Dallas Observer. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
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- Chang, Justin (June 25, 2014). "Richard Linklater on Living With Bernie Tiede". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
- Shanna Nugent Delivers the Victim Impact Statement at Bernie Tiede Resentencing June 14, 2016, www.youtube.com, accessed August 10, 2020
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- Osaidacz, Alex (April 20, 2016). "Bernie Tiede trial: Victim's sister says she was afraid of Marjorie". Retrieved October 30, 2016.
- Rhodes, Joe (April 12, 2012). "How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze . . ". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
- Grissom, Brandi. "East Texas widow killer Bernie Tiede, subject of hit movie, gets 99 years to life in re-trial". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on 28 May 2016.
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- Peterson, Matt (June 16, 2016). "Bernie Tiede won't face charge that he stole millions from East Texas widow he killed". Dallas Morning News. Dallas, TX. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
- Vansant, Peter (October 1, 2016). "The Mortician, The Murder, The Movie". 48 Hours. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
- "Bernie Tiede's attorney claims Nugent family stole money from victim's estate". KLTV. Tyler, TX. January 28, 2015. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
- TIEDE,BERNHARDT II." Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
- Rhodes, Joe (April 12, 2012). "How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze..." The New York Times.
- Hollandsworth, Skip (January 1998). "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas". Texas Monthly.
- Nugent, Marjorie (February 2, 2016). "Memorial page for Marjorie Nugent". FindAGrave.