Convicted murder Bernie Tiede, whose sensational story served as the basis for Richard Linklater‘s 2012 film Bernie, starring Jack Black, has been freed from prison early – provided he lives in the director’s garage apartment.
As is portrayed in Linklater’s film, Tiede, a former mortician, was sentenced to life in prison in 1999 for killing Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy East Texas widow he had befriended and become increasingly controlled by over the course of several years. Tiede met Nugent at the 1990 funeral of her husband, who had made a fortune in banking and oil. The two became close, traveling the world together, with Nugent eventually writing Tiede into her will and making much of her wealth available to him. In 1996, Nugent, then 81 years old, went missing. Her body was discovered nine months later stuffed inside a freezer in her garage. She had been shot in the back four times with a .22-caliber rifle.
Tiede confessed to the crime, saying he loved the old woman but had been driven to despair by her increasingly demanding and emotionally abusive behavior toward him. Before his confession, Tiede gave away great sums of Nugent’s money.
Linklater adapted the strange case for the screen in 2011, with Black in the title role and Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey co-starring. Both McConaughey and Black won critical praise for their performances, with Black earning a Golden Globe nomination for the role.
Tiede, now 55, was freed late Tuesday after a judge recommended that his prison term be reduced, following new information coming to light, including that he was sexually assaulted as a teenager but had been too ashamed to mention it during the original trial. The new evidence led a prosecuting attorney to file for early release. The request was granted and is pending approval by an appeals court.
Linklater, who has made something of a pet project of the case, testified on behalf of Tiede in Texas court, saying, “I was very impressed in prison how the other inmates looked up to him.… He seemed to be a very positive force in a negative environment. Myself and others are determined to help him in any way we can.”
Until the early release is approved, Tiede has been freed under a $10,000 bond, with conditions that he must live in an apartment above the garage of an Austin residence owned by Linklater. He must also remain in Austin, work as a legal clerk in the office of his defense attorney and receive counseling.
Linklater could not be reached immediately for comment.