Prosecutors show video of victim's frozen body being removed from freezer
HENDERSON, TX (KLTV) - Jurors heard and saw graphic details Friday during the resentencing trial of Bernie Tiede, including medical examiner testimony and autopsy photos and video of the victim.
The presentation was given during Day Three of the Tiede's resentencing trial. The former Carthage mortician was convicted in 1999 of killing 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy Carthage widow. He was sentenced to life in prison, but that sentence was overturned in 2014. Prosecutors began the day presenting evidence and calling witnesses.
Family member testifies
In court, the victim's oldest granddaughter, Alexandria Nugent, testified about Nugent - who she referred to as 'Nanny.'
Alexandria was the first immediate family member of the victim to be called. Growing up, Alexandria said she stayed with her grandparents over a summer. She said they had a close relationship and she would fish, garden and sew with her grandparents.
Nugent's husband died in 1990, which Alexandria said caused some friction in the family.
"She was mad at us because we weren't there when Papa died," Alexandria said. "She was grieving, (they were married) over 50 years."
Alexandria recalled traveling with her parents and siblings from Amarillo to Carthage and having a tense visit with Marjorie Nugent.
"There were pictures of the defendant (Tiede) everywhere and all of the pictures of my grandfather were taken down," Alexandria said. "(She) told me that was her friend."
In late 1995, Alexandria said her grandmother told her not to call anymore. Family was always important to her, so that wasn't like her to not want us in her life, Alexandria said.
Uncovering the crime
She later testified about discovering her grandmother's remains.
Alexandria accompanied her father to Carthage on August 18, 1997, after Nugent was reported missing. Getting into the home was difficult because of the locks but Alexandria said while in the garage, she noticed that her grandmother's car was dusty and her dog Bo was in the garage.
She said that once they got into the home, she wanted to check her freezer. She referred to Nugent as a child of the Great Depression, and said that if she knew she was taking a trip or going away for a long time, she would take all the food from the fridge and put it in the deep freezer. Her granddaughter said she wanted clues about where she was.
Alexandria testified that she removed the masking tape on the freezer and opened it.
"I have no memory of what I saw in that freezer," she said. "I think I was in shock from the moment I opened the freezer and on."
She moved to another part of the home as sheriff deputies also searched the house. The witness recalled hearing her father yell for her to get out of the house because it had been declared a crime scene. Outside, her father explained officials had located Nugent.
"She's dead, isn't she?" Alexandria recalls asking before she said she collapsed into a relatives' arms. Alexandria sang 'Amazing Grace' at her grandmother's funeral, a song she says she never sings anymore.
Conducting the autopsy
After testimony from Alexandria about the discovery of her grandmother's body, jurors heard from law enforcement official Lanny Mims. Mims worked for the Panola County Sheriff's Office and was with Alexandria when she opened the freezer. Mims testified that immediately after Alexandria left the pantry where the freezer was located, he moved a white sheet to find the back of a human head.
He said he also found a rifle on the bottom shelf of the pantry.
After Mims, the State called medical examiner Joseph Prahlow who performed Nugent's autopsy in 1997.
Prahlow said before his examination, he had to let her body thaw for 2 days. Four bullet wounds were found in Nugent's body, Prahlow said.
"This would have cause ... paralysis from the waist down," Prahlow said.
Prosecutors then attempted to introduce a video clip of the autopsy and the removal of Nugent's body from the freezer. Judge DeVasto declared a court recess to review the tape for herself before going forward. Prosecutors said the video shows how difficult it would have been for Tiede to place the body inside a freezer. Assistant Texas Attorney General Lisa Tanner said the facts relate directly to Tiede's claims that he was in a state of robotic dissociation when the killing occurred.
Defense attorney Mike Degeurin argued that the video was prejudicial, gruesome and not necessary to show facts that the medical examiner could testify about with a written report.
Judge DeVasto ruled that prosecutors could play a short clip for the jury that only showed the body being removed from the freezer and then stopping. She also allowed prosecutors to wheel the freezer itself into the courtroom for a brief moment during Prahlow's testimony.
Though some jurors and the court audience reacted in shock to the autopsy photos and video, Tiede kept his head down during the majority of Prahlow's testimony.
Earlier in the day, two state witnesses testified. Molly Sue Spear, a former travel coordinator with the Omni Club, testified about extravagant trips the victim and Tiede took together. The Omni Club organized international and local trips.
Spear testified that Nugent joined the travel club between 1993-94 after the death of her husband. Spear said Nugent regularly brought Tiede on Omni trips and the two traveled to Alaska, England, Scotland, Egypt, Branson and Memphis.
When asked about Tiede and Nugent's relationship, she said, "It was very congenial. They mixed with other people on the trip. They were friendly, they were very courteous. They intermixed with the group."
She described Tiede as "attentive and solicitous" and Nugent as "a reserved quiet lady." Spear also described Tiede as an attentive and caring companion. Many of the other traveling women wished they had a similar companion, Spear said.
Spear testified that Nugent and Tiede had a New York trip planned for December of 1996.
Nugent was killed November of 1996, but her body had not yet been discovered.
Spear said Tiede told the Omni Club that Marjorie was out of town and had to cancel the trip. Tiede, however, went on to New York with a male Panola College student instead.
The state next called Linda Effinger, a former Longview Bank and Trust employee. Effinger said Tiede brought financial documents to the bank regarding the transfer of Nugent's stocks after November 1996.
Thursday's witnesses called by the state included friends and those that worked with and for Nugent.
Part of Tiede's defense is that Nugent was abusive and controlling, causing him to eventually snap and kill her. Witnesses close to the victim said that's not the person they knew.
"She was shy, most people thought that that was her. I always thought that that was her shield. She was stern because she was shy," Marjorie's hairdresser, Billy Vaticalos said.
Once the state makes its case, the defense will offer its own presentation on behalf of Tiede.
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