By Marise Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - A jury on Friday sentenced a former mortician to return to prison for 99 years to life for murdering a wealthy East Texas widow and hiding her body in a freezer in a case that inspired the 2011 film "Bernie."
A jury in the East Texas town of Henderson deliberated for more than four hours following a three-week re-sentencing trial for Bernie Tiede, who was convicted in 1999 of the murder of 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent.
Tiede, 57, confessed to shooting Nugent in 1996 and stashing her body in a freezer chest at her home in the East Texas town of Carthage, where it remained for nine months before being found.
After he served nearly 17 years, an appeals court granted Tiede a re-sentencing trial to hear evidence that emerged after his conviction.
Attorneys from the Texas Attorney General’s office prosecuted the case after the original prosecutor, Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, recused himself.
"Our office is on a mission to achieve justice for victims and their families," Attorney General Ken Paxton said after the verdict.
During the re-sentencing trial, defense attorneys attempted to prove that sexual abuse Tiede suffered as a child caused him to snap after he was victimized by Nugent, shooting her four times in the back in an act of passion.
The original jury dismissed that argument and sentenced Tiede to life in prison for premeditated murder. Prosecutors produced evidence that Tiede had misappropriated about $3.8 million from Nugent, including $550,000 after her murder.
Nugent's family lauded the verdict.
"The family always believed justice would come for their grandmother when a fair trial had all the facts and none of the myth," said spokesman Ryan Gravatt.
Tiede's attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
Tiede had been free on a $10,000 personal bond for nearly two years, living in Austin on property owned by Richard Linklater. The film based on the case, directed by Linklater, starred Jack Black as Tiede and Shirley MacClaine as Nugent.
The film chronicled the relationship between Nugent and Tiede, who became companions shortly after Nugent became a widow. In 1993, Tiede left his job as an assistant funeral director to work full-time as Nugent’s personal assistant and business manger.
(Reporting by Marise Richter; Editing by Chris Michaud and Tom Hogue)