From left: Shanna L. Nugent of The Law Offices of Shanna L. Nugent in Dallas, and Rowlett solo Chad Baruch. Nugent is Baruch’s client. (John Council)
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Marjorie Nugent in the fifth paragraph.
Bernhardt Tiede’s story made for a compelling 2011 movie, “Bernie.” His release from a Texas prison made for big news earlier this year, after a trial court recommended habeas corpus relief for the convicted murderer and freed him on bond to live with Austin movie director Richard Linklater.
But Dallas lawyer Shanna Nugent would just as soon see the man who admitted to killing her grandmother returned to custody, and she recently sent a motion to the Court of Criminal Appeals telling them so.
The motion for leave of court to file an amicus curiae brief, Ex Parte Bernhardt Tiede II, is a request by Nugent and several family members asking Texas’ highest criminal court to hear them. They allege that there were issues not fully litigated at the trial court hearing on Tiede’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
“The family has had no opportunity to provide its input into Tiede’s request,” the motion alleges.
The newly available evidence presented in Tiede’s habeas petition is that Tiede allegedly murdered 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent during a dissociative event and that he previously suffered childhood sexual abuse and “abuse” by Marjorie Nugent—evidence that was not disclosed to the jury. Tiede alleges in his habeas petition that he was “unable to tell anyone about these events until many years later after the event, which several mental health professionals have said is not in any way surprising.”
Jodi Cole, an Austin solo who represents Tiede in the habeas action, did not return a call seeking comment.
Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, who prosecuted Tiede during a 1999 murder trial, did not oppose the January 2014 habeas petition Tiede filed in the trial court. The trial court subsequently granted Tiede relief and recommended that the CCA consider his habeas appeal. Tiede filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the CCA on June 11. During a trial court hearing on the habeas petition, Davidson told the court that he would have declined to pursue a life sentence against Tiede had he previously known about the abuse allegations, according to a court transcript filed as an attachment with Tiede’s habeas writ to the CCA.
Davidson did not return a call seeking comment.
But the Nugent family members who seek to file the amicus brief with the CCA believe that Tiede does not have a legal basis to bring new evidence to the appellate court, according to their June 17 motion.
“The family believes that Tiede’s petition is legally insufficient to entitle him to habeas relief for a variety of reasons. For example, Tiede advances his ‘newly available evidence’ claim without any claim of actual innocence—a basis for habeas relief not previously recognized by this court,” the motion states. “The family seeks leave to make these arguments, and others, through an amicus curiae brief. At minimum, this court should have the benefit of hearing both sides of the argument concerning Tiede’s petition. No one can be harmed by permitting presentation of countervailing arguments.”
Shanna Nugent quit her job as a stockbroker to attend the three-and-a-half-week trial of her grandmother’s killer in 1999. She later graduated from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, practiced at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and now is a transactional lawyer with The Law Offices of Shanna Nugent.
She said she and her family decided to file the motion to present the high court with an opposing argument about the merits of Tiede’s writ application.
“Justice is served best when you have two sides arguing a case,” said Nugent.
She hired Rowlett appellate lawyer Chad Baruch to file the motion on her family’s behalf.
Regarding the trial court hearing on Tiede’s habeas petition, she said, “In this case, the district attorney didn’t argue the facts or the arguments against the theory of a dissociative event. That doesn’t serve justice, so I’ve hired Chad to bring this to light before the state of Texas frees a murderer.”
“We just think the Court of Criminal Appeals should have all the facts before making a decision,” Baruch said. “And no one is presenting them.”
In the movie “Bernie,” Jack Black portrayed Tiede, while the roles of Marjorie Nugent and Davidson were handled by Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Shanna Nugent argued that the movie has played more of role in releasing Tiede from prison than justice.
“The movie makes a joke of my grandmother’s murder and vilifies my grandmother,” Nugent said. “First of all, the idea that any 80-year-old who was blind … and couldn’t take care of herself abused this man is ludicrous. The only place you get that is this movie.”