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Witness in Tiede trial: 'I knew from Day One he was going to kill her'

Published: Apr. 7, 2016 at 11:38 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2016 at 5:03 PM CDT
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HENDERSON, TX (KLTV) - Day Two of the Bernie Tiede re-sentencing trial began at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Tiede was convicted in 1999 of killing 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent. He was sentenced to life in prison, but that sentence was overturned in 2014.

During a lunch break, two jurors required medical attention. An official announced after the break that one juror fell down the stairs, causing an ankle injury and another juror reported feeling dizzy. Both told officials they were OK to proceed.

After the lunch break, Tiede's defense attorneys asked Judge Diane DeVasto to make a decision about a small group of protesters outside the courtroom. The defense argued that the signs were likely seen by jurors walking out of the courthouse. Attorneys asked for action by the court and asked that the gag order be lifted for everyone since these expressions were against Tiede.

Once the jury was brought back into the courtroom, DeVasto instructed jurors to disregard any opinions they may hear or see around the courthouse.

Earlier during the day, jurors heard from Nugent's hairdresser, Billy Vaticalos. Vaticalos testified that the last time he saw Nugent alive, Tiede was with her. He recalled that during one conversation, Tiede complained to him that Nugent wanted to go everywhere with him. 

"I told him, 'You just need to put your big britches on and just tell her,' " Vaticalos said.

A week later, in November 1996, Vaticalos said Tiede called him and said Nugent would not be coming to him for any more appointments. Vaticalos was surprised, he testified, because he had been doing Nugent's hair for 30 years.

Vaticalos described Nugent as a woman who used sternness as a shield. 

"She was stern because she was shy," he said. 

Vaticalos appeared in the movie "Bernie" playing himself.

The State's fourth witness, Angela Rowe, a family friend of Marjorie Nugent, continued her testimony Thursday morning. Rowe and her husband lived on Nugent's property and took care of their farm.

Rowe testified hat Mrs. Nugent was very frugal and believed that "you should work for what you get."

When Tiede befriended Nugent, Rowe said her 81-year-old friend began acting differently. She said she became cold and standoffish toward her. 

"She was falling in love with [Bernie], he was courting her," she said.

She said that she witnessed romantic cards and gifts from Tiede to Nugent. She said Bernie would look at her when he would kiss Marjorie, as if to say, "I'm winning!" because she said he knew Rowe felt he was a con man and didn't trust him.

"He was conning her!" Rowe testified. "I knew from day one he was going to kill her." 

Rowe said that she accompanied Nugent on short trips out of town, to take her to her doctor in Shreveport, among other places. She said that she was so suspicious of Bernie that she asked the heart doctor in Shreveport whether Bernie might be somehow poisoning Nugent, causing the health issues she was having. She did not say what the doctor's reply was to that question.

On another occasion, Mrs. Nugent asked Rowe to drive her to Tyler to visit her attorney, Mr. Lassiter. Mrs. Nugent wanted to give Bernie power of attorney over her estate, she said. Mr. Lassiter, Rowe said, had a very strong reaction to that, and absolutely refused to do that for Mrs. Nugent. They went back home to Carthage, with no POA granted.

Shortly thereafter, Rowe said she found Marjorie in her office, alone. She said she was sobbing uncontrollably, "almost in the floor and distraught". She asked her what was wrong, because she said she thought someone must have died. Mrs. Nugent answered, "Bernie is going to leave me if I don't give him power of attorney!" and began sobbing even more, beside herself, she said.

Ultimately, Mrs. Nugent became more distant from the Rowes, and began accusing them of stealing cows from her, and fertilizer, she said. Finally, Mr. Rowe, who had known Nugent all of his life, said, "If that is how you feel, here are the keys to the farm," and they left, Rowe said.

On cross examination, defense attorney Jodi Cole asked Rhodes if she was jealous of the lavish trips Nugent took with Tiede.  Cole also questioned Rhodes about being denied a home by Nugent after Tiede was in the picture.

The movie 'Bernie' played a role in opening statements on Wednesday. Both sides say the 2012 film was the Hollywood version of the story and that it didn't show all the facts.

Marjorie's first cousin Ruth Cockrell, 82, of Carthage, took the stand on Wednesday afternoon. She denied ever seeing Nugent act mean or abusive. She also said the cousins shared a close relationship. Cockrell testified that in December of 1996, she asked Tiede repeatedly about Nugent's whereabouts. She said she grew suspicious that something was wrong but felt she couldn't tell others about her concerns.

The State also called Greg Kramer, a Lake Charles funeral director who received training from Tiede.  Kramer was asked about proper embalming procedures and he testified that freezing a body is not a proper way to preserve a body. He said his business doesn't even use cooling units.

From November of 1996 to August of 1997, Tiede kept Nugent in a home freezer.  Tiede's defense has repeatedly argued this act shows that Tiede was caring and wanted to properly preserve Nugent so that she could have a funeral.

The re-sentencing trial will resume today at 9 a.m. KLTV's Julia Jenae will be in the courtroom and have updates throughout the day.

Editor's note: Due to a ruling by the judge, updates will be provided during court breaks. No live tweeting, updating or streaming is allowed while the court is in session. 

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