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Nugent nephew, author of 'How my Aunt Marjorie ended up in the deep freeze,' testifies

Published: Apr. 19, 2016 at 7:45 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 20, 2016 at 1:32 AM CDT
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Joe Rhodes, Marjorie Nugent's nephew, testified Tuesday. (Source: Pool camera)
Joe Rhodes, Marjorie Nugent's nephew, testified Tuesday. (Source: Pool camera)
Psychiatry experts testify on day 10 of Bernie Tiede's sentencing trial. (Source: Pool camera)
Psychiatry experts testify on day 10 of Bernie Tiede's sentencing trial. (Source: Pool camera)
Psychiatry experts testify on day 10 of Bernie Tiede's sentencing trial. (Source: Pool camera)
Psychiatry experts testify on day 10 of Bernie Tiede's sentencing trial. (Source: Pool camera)

HENDERSON, TX (KLTV) - During the tenth day of Bernie Tiede's resentencing trial, Marjorie Nugent's nephew took the stand, as did mental health professionals, who gave expert opinions on the defendant's mental state.

In 1999, Tiede was convicted and sentenced to life by a San Augustine jury for the first degree murder of Marjorie Nugent, his 81-year-old friend and companion. Tiede shot Nugent in the back four times with a rifle on Nov. 19, 1996, and then stored her body in the deep freezer of her home until her body was discovered by law enforcement on Aug. 18, 1997.

In 2014, a Panola County court overturned Tiede's life sentence pending a new resentencing trial after Tiede claimed new evidence of sexual abuse he suffered as a child was not presented at the 1999 trial.  

Nugent's nephew, Joe Rhodes, was not condemning Tiede in his testimony. Rhodes is the son of Nugent's sister, and also a journalist. He wrote a New York Times article in 2012 entitled "How my Aunt Marjorie ended up in the deep freeze," The article described Nugent as a mean, abusive, judgmental person.

The state objected to Rhodes' testifying, saying his account was outdated and not relevant to the current case. Also, it was apparent that Nugent's son's family was not happy with Rhodes' testimony, which included one incident he remembered from childhood about the aunt he later became estranged from.

His comments were:

What she needed me to do was clean out this wasps nest that had some how cropped up and she told me that I had to do it and I said I don't have any gloves, I don't have any tools, and she said well do it with your bare hands, she ended up chasing me around the yard with garden shears because I wouldn't listen to her, she eventually chased me into the house and locked me in the bedroom and said I couldn't come out until I apologized to her and did what she told me.

On cross examination, prosecutors questioned Rhodes about his connection to those involved with the "Bernie" movie that was released around the same time he wrote the article.

Psychiatrists split on Tiede's state of mind

On Tuesday, defense attorneys also called several experts to the stand to weigh in on the effects the childhood abuse had on Tiede's mental state in 1996.

Psychiatrist Edward Gripon testified that Tiede experienced a brief dissociative episode in the moments before he shot Nugent.

Gripon testified  to being the original psychiatrist expert for the state in the 1999 trial, and being asked to review the case again in 2013 by District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson.

Mobile users click here to see a comprehensive timeline of the Bernie Tiede trial.

Defense attorneys used Gripon's new report in 2014 in the request for a new sentencing trial.

During the first trial, Gripon said he was not allowed to interview Tiede, but in re-examining the case he talked in person with Tiede.

Gripon agreed that it was unusual for a district attorney to ask him to look at an old case again, but Gripon said when he interviewed Tiede, new facts emerged.

Defense attorney Jodi Cole asked if Gripon now believed Tiede experienced a dissociative episode.

I think it was brief dissociative episode, Gripon said, a time when a persons emotions are so overwhelming and they handle it inadequately

"I was told that immediately before the killing, Nugent was demeaning (her gardener, Chris) and she had accused him of theft," testified Gripon. "Tiede told me he felt like he was in a prison and wanted out of his relationship (with Nugent) but didn't know how to go ahead with that."

On cross-examination, state prosecutors asked if Gripon was aware that Nugent's gardener has testified in a separate federal hearing to having not worked for Nugent since 1993. Gripon said he was not aware of those details about the gardener, and said if Tiede had lied it would be 'concerning.' Gripon also said Tiede does not exhibit having any mental illness or mental disorder.

Another psychiatry expert, Michael Arambula, testified there was no dissociative episode because Tiede did not report memory loss or amnesia.

Arambula said one of the symptoms of a dissociative episode is having amnesia.

RELATED: Tiede's defense to call psychiatrists Tuesday

Tiede's therapist, Liz Cohen, testified that Tiede exhibits symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder from reported childhood sex abuse and has benefited from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

Cohen was questioned about why Tiede hid the childhood abuse, which was not brought out in the 1999 trial. Cohen testified Tiede likely hid the fact that he was sexually abused by his uncle as a child because he was living his life in Carthage as a closeted gay man, and felt shame about it.

In addition to mental health experts, the defense also called as a witness Tina Harrison, wife of 'Bernie' movie director Richard Linklater. Tiede has been living in Linklater and Harrison's Austin garage apartment since his release from jail in 2014.  Harrison testified about Tiede's likability and his kindness with her children and their pets.

On cross-examination, prosecutors pointed out immediate family members of the victim and asked Harrison if Nugent's murder should be comically portrayed in a film or musical.

Harrison struggled to find an answer, commenting that her husband, who created the dark comedy 'Bernie' based on the details surrounding Nugent's murder, was sitting in the courtroom. Ultimately, she said the murder was not funny and said somberly to Nugent's family that she did not condone the killing of their loved one.

Defense attorney Mike DeGeurin told the judge that it may take two to three more days to get through the remaining witnesses.

PHOTOS: Inside the Tiede resentencing trial

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