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Nugent family wants voice in Bernie Tiede case

By Glenn Evans
June 18, 2014 at 11 p.m.


Marjorie Nugent's family members are asking the state's highest criminal court to hear their side as it weighs a motion that could free Bernie Tiede from a life sentence he was serving for Nugent's murder.

Nugent family spokesman Ryan Gravatt of Austin said Wednesday the family also has sent Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson a letter asking why he agreed Tiede should be freed after serving 15 years of a life sentence jurors handed him in 1999.

Tiede left Carthage on special probation this past month after Davidson said he would have prosecuted Tiede under a lesser charge had newly uncovered evidence been available before the trial.

That evidence indicated Tiede could have killed Nugent in a rage prompted by childhood trauma from sexual abuse. Davidson said this past month that he would have tried Tiede under a murder statute making 20 years the maximum penalty had he known of the abuse.

Davidson's motion, jointly signed with defense attorney Jodi Cole, convinced visiting Judge Diane DeVasto to set Tiede free with conditions while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals weighs his case.

He is living in an apartment furnished by filmmaker Richard Linklater, whose 2011 movie "Bernie" inspired Cole to take up Tiede's cause and file the writ on which he was freed.

The court in Austin could either agree with Davidson and Cole, freeing Tiede, or disagree and send him back to finish his life sentence. No date has been set for a hearing.

Tiede's case reached the Austin court from Carthage on June 11.

Gravatt, who described himself as a family friend and founder of Raconteur Media Co. in Austin, said Wednesday that the Nugent family wants the court to listen to its side of the question.

"(Family members) lay out why the court should give them a voice," he said.

Their motion, which Gravatt said was filed late Wednesday, asks permission to file a brief stating the family's reasons why Tiede should remain in prison.

"Marjorie Nugent and the citizens of Texas deserve better than to have a confessed murderer set free without anyone even articulating to this Court(sic) the reasons why that might not be appropriate," the brief reads.

The family's letter to Davidson is more pointed.

It says the family was never informed of the May 6 hearing at which Tiede's writ for habeas corpus was granted.

And it challenges the new evidence of Tiede's childhood sexual abuse by an uncle. Such abuse, experts hired by Cole testified last month, could have triggered a disassociative episode during which Tiede shot Nugent in the back during a fit of rage.

"Neither Mr. Tiede's newly alleged facts nor the opinions of his treating psychologists have been tested through procedures typically employed in our judicial system to provide procedural and factual safeguards for all involved," the letter to Davidson reads. "Please explain your rationale for not requiring Mr. Tiede to testify about these alleged facts and/or offer other proof of their existence."

The letter asks for Davidson's written responses to several questions, including what the prosecutor has done to ensure Tiede does not profit from his crime.

Davidson was not available for comment Wednesday evening.

"The Nugent family wants you to understand that although they are greatly disappointed in Mr. Tiede's release from prison, they have moved carefully and methodically in deciding how to react," the letter reads. "Please accept this letter as a good faith effort on the part of the Nugent family to learn and understand your decision-making process and the facts upon which you relied to make your decisions relating to the habeas corpus relief sought by Mr. Tiede."

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