CARTHAGE — Bernie Tiede found himself locked up in a different Carthage by Monday than the one where a community rallied to his side when he was jailed in 1997 for the murder of Marjorie Nugent.
Convicted of the wealthy oil widow's 1996 murder in 1999, Tiede was handed his second life term during a new sentencing trial that ended in Henderson last Friday.
Both times, life sentence.
Tiede's defense team, which assembled in the wake of a 2011 dark comedy about the former church choir singer and his elderly benefactress, vowed to file a motion for a new trial and a direct appeal.
Attorney Mike DeGeurin has 30 days to file his notice with the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana. After the sentence, DeGeurin reminded reporters he had preserved several objections made during the three-week sentencing trial that ended Friday.
"The big issue that we wanted to show is, to sentence somebody taking into consideration the entire picture, where what he had gone through in his life had put him in a position to do something that was senseless, that made no sense to him," DeGeurin said last week. "And there was no benefit for him to do that."
DeGeurin and co-counsel Jodi Cole might want to secure a change of venue well outside Carthage if they win either a new sentencing trial or get Friday's verdict thrown out on appeal.
Unlike in 1997 when the popular mortician was arrested, or even when East Texan Richard Linklater had his pick of residents ready to recall their praise of Tiede for the 2011 movie, "Bernie," Carthage residents aren't saying much about their former fair-haired child.
Many encountered on the downtown square Monday declined to speak publicly. Those who did said with one voice that his new life sentence is the right call.
"I feel like he shouldn't have done what he did," Breanna Pittman of Carthage said. "And saying you got molested when you were a little kid doesn't give you a reason to shoot someone and take their money. ... I think he got what he deserved."
Walter Craft, a temporary justice of the peace for the Gary area in Panola County, found justice in the Henderson jury issuing the same punishment a jury in San Augustine did in 1999. That earlier life term was vacated by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014 after new evidence arose that Tiede had been sexually molested from ages 11 to 14 or older.
"I don't know what I would have sentenced him to, but what they did was right by me," Craft said on the Panola County Courthouse lawn, across the street from Hawthorn Funeral Home where Tiede worked until he became a full-time assistant to Nugent. "I think it was just, because he started out with life the first time. I didn't see anything to change that."
The Texas sentence, 99 years to life in prison, can be deceptive.
People sentenced to life are eligible for parole in 30 years. With 17 already served, Tiede should see his first parole hearing in 13 years when he is 70 years old.
By then, though, he could be serving time on a still-untried theft indictment related to how he handled Nugent's funds before and after her death. Visiting Judge Diane DeVasto encouraged lawyers on Friday to resolve the felony theft charge.
Holding Pittman's four-month-old baby, Tawni Gibson, in her arms as the Carthage trio shopped the square, Hannah Taylor said it's understandable most Carthage residents had declined to talk about Tiede.
"Probably, people are too mad about it," she said, adding that Tiede had put on a convincing good-guy image during the 1990s when he was distributing Nugent's oil wealth to causes and friends in need, more of it as investments to his own businesses under the umbrella as investments for the widow.
"My parents knew him, and it just shocked everybody," Taylor said.
Karen Johnson of Carthage said most people she knows applaud the Henderson jury's decision.
"I think justice was served," Johnson said. "He should have never been out in the first place."
Johnson also commented on the 2014 film that many felt portrayed their community as gullible or backward.
"I think the movie was a little bit ridiculous," Johnson said. "It's sad they made a public show out of what happened — what if it was your relative (murdered)? I don't know, a lot of people didn't see through him."
A close call
The trial in Henderson had teetered, briefly, about an hour before the verdict was announced.
That occurred when a clerk returning with dinner for the jury informed Visiting Judge Diane DeVasto that a waitress handling the jury fried fish order had said a male friend on the jury had shared inside information that could indicate the panel had discussed the case while the trial was ongoing.
Neither the prosecution nor defense wished to motion for mistrial, however, after the judge questioned both male jurors.
One of them did know someone at the restaurant, and it was difficult to hear him leaning up toward DeVasto's bench. But he might have said he had told his friend merely that he had been among the 1,000 people summoned to the April 1 pool at the Henderson Civic Center.
"Should I call them?" the juror had asked the judge, who recoiled.
"Oh, no. Oh, no," she replied.
The clerk reporting the exchange had said the waitress had guessed the order was for the Tiede trial.
"She said, 'I have a friend that's on that jury, and he says they're not gonna...,' " she said, adding that the clerk had stopped there and an awkward silence fell.