By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday granted a change of venue for the resentencing hearing of a former mortician convicted of killing an elderly East Texas woman and hiding her body in a freezer, a story that inspired the 2011 movie “Bernie.”
Judge Diane DeVasto granted prosecutors’ request to move the new punishment hearing for Bernie Tiede to Henderson County from Panola County, also in East Texas.
Prosecutors argued that justice would not be guaranteed in Panola County because of the film’s account of events and the “influence in favor” of Tiede, 57, a well-liked citizen of Carthage in that county.
Tiede confessed to the crime and was convicted of murdering 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent in 1999. He has been free on bond since an appeals court agreed last year to consider a new punishment hearing based on evidenced uncovered after his trial.
Attorneys for Tiede said the new evidence suggested he was sexually abused as a child, which caused him to snap and to shoot Nugent to death in a fit of rage in 1996.
Tiede then stashed Nugent’s body in a deep freezer, where it remained until its discovery by authorities nine months later.
The trial jury dismissed the sudden passion argument and sentenced Tiede to life in prison for premeditated murder.
An appeals court granted Tiede a new punishment hearing last November. The hearing is set for January.
Tiede will face prosecutors from the Texas Attorney General’s Office since Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, who won conviction of Tiede, was recused from the case at his own request.
In the movie version, Davidson was played by Matthew McConaughey.
"The family is hopeful for justice for Marjorie Nugent’s murder," said family spokesman Ryan Gravatt. The victim’s heirs have been pressing to have Tiede returned to prison and prosecuted for stealing about $3.5 million from her.
Since his release on a $10,000 personal bond, Tiede has been living in a property in Austin rented from “Bernie” filmmaker Richard Linklater.
The dark comedy chronicles the relationship between Nugent and Tiede, who quit his job as an assistant funeral director in the town of Carthage to become Nugent’s business manager and personal companion.
The film stars Jack Black as Tiede and Shirley McLaine as Nugent.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Peter Cooney)