Bernie Tiede trial: Victim's sister says she was afraid of Marjorie

Published: Apr. 20, 2016 at 11:43 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2016 at 1:33 AM CDT
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Bernie Tiede in trial on Wednesday. (Source: Pool camera)
Bernie Tiede in trial on Wednesday. (Source: Pool camera)
Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo testified on Wednesday. (Source: Pool camera)
Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo testified on Wednesday. (Source: Pool camera)

HENDERSON, TX (KLTV) - Marjorie Nugent's sister took the stand in day 11 of Bernie Tiede's trial for a new sentence. Tiede was convicted and sentenced to life for killing 81-year-old Nugent nearly 20 years ago. In 2014, his life sentence was overturned due to Tiede's claims that new evidence existed in his case.

Tiede's attorneys have argued that Nugent acted abusively towards Tiede during their 6-year friendship. On Wednesday, defense attorney Mike DeGeurin called Merrell Rhodes, Nugent's younger sister, to the stand to talk about the victim's personality.

"I was always afraid of her because I couldn't meet her demands," Rhodes testified. "I was always afraid of her fits, because they were very strong; she was a strong lady."

Rhodes lived near Carthage when her sister's body was discovered there in a freezer in 1997 where Tiede had been storing her.  Rhodes testified that she stopped communicating with her sister years before 1997, but said she missed their once good relationship.

"I never forgot that she was my sister. I was taught that and I always respected that," said Rhodes. "I always loved her as a sister, actually, even when she did ugly things, and she did."

Several more defense witnesses traveled from Austin on Wednesday and testified about Tiede's positive impact on their community since his release from prison in 2014.

Earlier in the day, a Gregg County commissioner took the stand Wednesday as a defense witness.

Court resumed at 9 a.m. inside the Rusk County Judicial Center in Henderson as the trial moved into Day 11. On the stand, Gregg County Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo testified about a memorable conversation he had with Marjorie Nugent between 1991 and 1996.

"She told me very clearly that she intended to enjoy the rest of her life," Primo testified. "She said, I'll spend every dime (of my money) before I leave it to my family."

Primo said he worked with Nugent's husband, Rodney Nugent, on business ventures.

Primo called Nugent "very conservative" and agreed she was a "woman of the Depression." After her husband passed away, Primo said she began taking numerous international vacations with Tiede.

She asked Primo for help with liquidating some of her late husband's assets and later introduced him to Tiede, Primo recalled.

"The difference in their age raised my eyebrows. It was out of character for her (to spend her money) but she made it clear to me that she was happy and enthusiastic about it," Primo said. "I didn't press it much further than that because it wasn't any of my business."

Prosecutor Lisa Tanner asked Primo if he had concerns that Tiede was a "gold digger."

Primo said initially that was his concern, however, he testified that Nugent and Tiede acted genuinely affectionate to each other. Primo said he did not testify in the first trial and did not talk to law enforcement about the case before now.

"Did (Nugent) seem like a person to you who could have been victimized?" asked defense attorney Mike DeGeurin.

"No, sir." Primo responded. "I sized her up as someone I didn't want to tangle with."

Prosecutors have argued that Tiede was stealing millions from Nugent before her death, and around $500,000 after her death.

Psychiatrists were split on Tuesday regarding Tiede's state of mind in 1996 and how abuse he endured as a child could have impacted his behavior. Nugent's nephew, Joe Rhodes, was the last to testify Tuesday. Rhodes, the author of a New York Times article in 2012, described Nugent as a mean, abusive, and judgmental person.

A number of witnesses have yet to be called, which could push the trial late into the week or into the next.

READ MORE: Nugent nephew, author of 'How my Aunt Marge ended up in the deep freeze'

In 1999, Tiede was sentenced to life in prison for the 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.

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