Bernie Tiede juror: 'It's like it never happened'

Kent Birdwell, juror in the 1999 Bernie Tiede trial (Source: KTRE Staff)
Kent Birdwell, juror in the 1999 Bernie Tiede trial (Source: KTRE Staff)
Tiede being escorted out of court (Source: KLTV)
Tiede being escorted out of court (Source: KLTV)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A juror from the 1999 Bernie Tiede murder trial is speaking out against the recent decision to release Tiede on bond.

A judge in Panola County heard a recommendation from both Panola County District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Edward Gripon on Tuesday that Bernie Tiede should be released from prison on time served.

Judge Diane DeVasto recommended that Tiede be released on a $10,000 bond. The bond stipulates that Tiede maintain steady employment, surrender his passport, and not leave Austin area. Tiede will live in an apartment provided by Richard Linklater, the director of the film, "Bernie."

Former juror Kent Birdwell said that the decision goes against everything he and the other 11 jurors worked on.

"They presented their evidence and we passed our judgment and I feel like they are just throwing it all away," Birdwell said.

The Tiede case has gained a national following after Linklater released the Bernie film. Birdwell said he feels like the film has distorted the truth of the events surrounding the shooting of Marjorie Nugent, a Carthage millionaire and friend of Tiede.

"When you look from the outside, if you were not involved with it, it is a story," Birdwell said. "No doubt about that, it's a story. Could it have been done with more taste? Sure, the story needs to be told."

Birdwell also said he believes that the movie painted an unfair portrayal of East Texans.

"It kind of put us in a bad light," Birdwell said. "It made us all look like backwoods, toothless brainless people that didn't know what we were doing and that's not the case. We took it very seriously. It was a serious matter. The movie wasn't serious."

On May 6, a judge agreed with Danny "Buck" Davidson, Panola County District Attorney, that possible long-term abuse led to the sudden character change of Tiede.

At the hearing, Dr. Edward Gripon told the court that he believes Tiede experienced a dissociative episode when the offense against Marjorie Nugent was committed. He said he believes the incident was not premeditated. Davidson said, based on new evidence, he believes a history of abuse and other factors led Tiede to kill Nugent. He told the court he no longer believes a life sentence is appropriate.

"I have made new, fully-formed assessments of the circumstances surrounding the shooting event and Mr. Tiede's lack of future dangerousness. I now feel that a life sentence is an inappropriate sentence for Mr. Tiede," said Davidson.

Birdwell said he cannot agree with that statement.

"Things happen to people," Birdwell said. "We grow up and try to move from it. You know, you do something like that, you have to pay for it. That's what we were there for. We passed that judgment. We did our job and now it's like it never happened."

Birdwell said he has only one question for Davidson.

"[I would ask] why after all this time, the change of heart because I saw how passionate he was in that courtroom and how vigorous he was in the prosecution," Birdwell said.

Davidson told KTRE over the phone that he does not have to offer any more explanations on the matter and that his statement in court was sufficient enough.

Birdwell also said that the events of the trial have stuck with him every day since the sentencing.

"I just remember the evidence; holding the bullets in my hands, seeing the deep freeze rolled into the court room and watching the video of the medical examiner removing her body from the deep freezer," Birdwell said.

Birdwell added that he hopes his speaking out helps bring attention to the case.

"I have a life to live and a family to take care of and kids to raise and teach, and maybe this helps me do that better," Birdwell said. "Maybe talking about this helps."

Tiede's case will now go to the Criminal Court of Appeals, who will make the final ruling on whether or not Tiede will be released permanently. No time frame has been set for that case.

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