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Killer who inspired 'Bernie' freed, will live in director's garage

The killer who inspired 'Bernie' has been freed -- and will live in Richard Linklater's garage apartment

Hollywood couldn't have come up with a plot twist as unusual as the latest development in the case of Bernie Tiede, the east Texas assistant funeral director whose killing of his closest confidante, a reclusive 81-year-old millionaire, inspired Richard Linklater's well regarded 2011 film "Bernie" starring Jack Black.

On Tuesday, Tiede was released from prison after a Panola County judge recommended that his life sentence be reduced to time served and that he be released on $10,000 bond pending appellate court approval, The Times has reported.

And Tiede, 55, already has a new home lined up: Among the conditions of his release is that he will live in a garage apartment owned by Linklater, who spoke in front of the court on Tiede's behalf.

Tiede is also to work as a legal clerk for Jodi Cole, the attorney who first approached Linklater after a screening of "Bernie" and questioned Tiede's original conviction.

As the film (shot in a pseudo-documentary style as it captures the foibles of small-town Texas) and a gleeful Black depict, Tiede befriended Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy widow in the town of Carthage, after handling her husband's funeral and soon began overseeing many of her affairs. Eventually, she became overbearing, and one day in 1996 Tiede snapped and shot her four times in the back.

Cole, in part because of what she saw in the film, reviewed the case and wound up finding that Tiede had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child, a revelation that helped convince Dist. Atty. Danny Buck Davidson, who originally put Tiede away (he's played in the film by a boisterous Matthew McConaughey), and State District Judge Diane DeVasto that Tiede's actions were probably influenced by the abuse. He wasn't, they determined, a coldblooded killer after Nugent's money.

It's not a perfect storybook ending — Davidson said that "Bernie" turned much of Carthage against Tiede. Still, the former mortician can't complain too much: Had the movie never been made, Tiede would almost certainly still be in prison.

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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