(Reuters) - A pool of East Texas residents was called as prospective jurors on Friday for a re-sentencing hearing of a former mortician convicted of killing a wealthy, elderly woman and hiding her body in a freezer, a story that inspired the 2011 movie “Bernie.”
Testimony is expected to begin on Wednesday in a Rusk County courtroom, about 130 miles east of Dallas, in the new punishment hearing for Bernie Tiede, court officials said.
Tiede, 57, confessed to the crime and was convicted of murdering 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent in 1999. He was sentenced to life in prison, but an appeals court agreed to consider a new punishment hearing based on evidence of sexual abuse he suffered as a child uncovered after his trial.
Tiede has been free on a $10,000 personal bond for nearly two years and living in Austin on a property owned by “Bernie” filmmaker Richard Linklater.
Nugent’s family wants Tiede returned to prison and prosecuted for what they said is the theft of about $3.5 million from her, according to a family spokesman.
Judge Diane DeVasto moved the trial from nearby Panola County where the crime occurred at the request of prosecutors who argued that justice was uncertain there because the movie’s portrayal of events likely swayed local sentiment in favor of Tiede.
Attorneys for Tiede will try to prove the sexual abuse he suffered caused him to snap and shoot Nugent to death in a fit of rage in 1996.
Tiede hid Nugent’s body in a deep freezer at her Carthage home, where it remained until it was discovered by authorities nine months later.
The trial jury dismissed the sudden passion argument and sentenced Tiede to life in prison for premeditated murder.
A gag order prevents the parties from discussing the case.
Two attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office haven been appointed as prosecutors because the original prosecutor, Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, recused himself from the resentencing hearing.
The film stars Jack Black as Tiede, Shirley MacLaine as Nugent and Matthew McConaughey as Davidson.
The dark comedy chronicles the relationship between Nugent and Tiede, who quit his job as an assistant funeral director to become Nugent’s business manager and personal companion.
Reporting by Marice Richter; writing by Jon Herskovitz, editing by G Crosse