The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals released their opinion Wednesday on the new evidence used to free Bernie Tiede from prison. They announced Tiede should be granted relief in the form of a new punishment hearing.
Bernie Tiede was sentenced to life in prison for shooting Marjorie Nugent in 1996 and hiding her body in a freezer for several months. He spent 17 years behind bars. Then, new evidence brought his case back to Panola County in May.
A psychologist testified that Bernie Tiede snapped when he murdered Nugent because of a history of sexual abuse as a child. Tiede was released from prison on bond, while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed his case.
It was painful for the Nugent family to watch their loved one's killer walk away from the jail free on bond. Now, they worry his freedom could be permanent.
"There is a convicted, confessed murderer who is likely to be free and any chance for justice for Marjorie Nugent is likely gone," says Ryan Gravatt, a spokesperson for the Nugent family. He says they were stunned when they learned The Criminal Court of Appeals' decision.
"The Nugent family was looking forward to closing this chapter of their lives, and they were looking forward to something more along the lines of justice for Marjorie than freedom for Tiede," says Gravatt.
Read more: Carthage residents react to decision on Tiede's appeal
They hoped evidence showing the money Bernie Tiede was allegedly stealing from Marjorie Nugent would help the court decide her death was not a moment of sudden passion.
"He ultimately executed Marjorie for her millions, and he was concerned he was going to get caught. Those are the facts the family would like the public to remember," Gravatt says.
People in Carthage say the ruling comes with mixed emotions.
"What's right and what's legally right is not always the same thing. Legally, yes, it's time for him to be set free; morally, no," says James Baker, one of Tiede's friends.
The Nugent family is worried Bernie Tiede's case could set a dangerous precedent.
"It's really scary that a murderer who confessed murder and took the stand in defense of himself in a jury trial could come back and say, 'You know what? I didn't have such a good life,'" says Gravatt.
He says the Nugents are also concerned about the legitimacy of Tiede's claims.
"Everything from his jailhouse interviews, to the time when the movie came out, to the claim of sudden passion are unsubstantiated," Gravatt says.
The Nugents say if they can't get justice for Marjorie, they want to make sure no other widow becomes a victim of someone like Bernie Tiede. They plan to do that through a non-profit foundation created in Marjorie's name.
Tiede is currently living in Austin with Richard Linklater, the director of the film "Bernie."
The Panola County Sheriff's Office says they have not been notified of any decision to arrest Bernie and no arrangements have been made to take him back to Panola County.
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