In 1979, the nation was outraged when Dan White, who successfully carried out a premeditated plan to murder San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, and first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was acquitted because his attorneys convinced the jury that White’s excessive consumption of Hostess Twinkies had rendered him effectively (and legally) insane when he pulled the trigger. Thirty-five years later, Progressives all over America are celebrating the fact that a man who murdered in cold blood an 81-year-old woman, hid her body in the freezer, and, over the course of several months, freely spent her money is being released from life in prison because the Texas legal establishment has concluded that his status as a victim of childhood sexual abuse and his life as a closeted gay man in East Texas excused his crime.
Stop laughing! I’m not kidding. This is for real:
Bernie Tiede, the Carthage man who fatally shot a wealthy widow in November 1996 and was later sentenced to life in prison for the crime could be freed on $10,000 bond, after the DA who prosecuted him agreed to free him.
New evidence about sexual abuse he suffered in childhood has come to light, leading to a probable reduction of the life sentence he received in 1999.
In 1996, Tiede shot Marjorie Nugent, 81, and sealed her body in a freezer in her home. Tiede, an assistant funeral director in Carthage, struck up a friendship with Nugent and the two became close companions, living, traveling, and shopping together.
After Nugent’s killing, Tiede continued spending her money and was rather charitable in the community. Police discovered her body nine months later, hidden under frozen food.
According to the Texas Tribune, psychiatrists that examined Tiede learned he had been sexually abused from the age of 12 until he was 18. The suppression of this led him to be able to disassociate himself from reality, including a murder by his own hand. Living as a closeted gay man in a small East Texas town also created issues for Tiede.
The Twinkie defense is so passé. We call this updated version the “closet gay” defense.
It didn’t hurt that Hollywood got hold of Tiede’s story and turned it into a big-name movie:
The story of Tiede and Nugent’s relationship was made into the 2011 movie Bernie, based on a Texas Monthly article and directed by Texas’ own Richard Linklater. Starring Jack Black as Tiede and Shirley MacLaine as Nugent, it also marked the career resurgence of Matthew McConaughey, who played District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson.
I have never been sexually abused, which means that I can only sympathize, not empathize, with Tiede’s youthful suffering. I would never dream of denying how horrible childhood sexual abuse is nor can I presume to say what it would do to someone’s psyche. Still, murdering a friend, hiding her body, and spending months living off her money seems less like the act of a person with a deeply traumatized psyche (he “disassociate[d] himself from reality”) and much more like a garden-variety sociopathic act of greed.
When it comes to the trauma of being a closeted gay man in East Texas, I haven’t experienced that either. I do, however, live day-to-day as a closeted conservative woman in central/southern Marin, which is probably comparable in terms of my need to keep an important part of my life secret for fear of being viewed as dangerous and deviant. Despite the constant psychic injuries I suffer, though, I haven’t felt any urge yet to shoot a friend to death, stuff his (or her) body in the freezer, and live high on the hog with my victim’s money. (And there is a lot of money to be had in Marin. Just sayin’.)
Back in the 1990s, Damian King, a young black man, was acquitted of trying to beat Reginald Denny to death during the Rodney King riots because he was “caught him the rapture” of the moment. I thought then and continue to believe now that this was a shockingly racist verdict. California’s legal system accepted as given that a young black man could not exert any degree of human control over his thought processes and moral functioning. Instead, he was simply a maddened dog, functioning purely on animal instinct. Raaacist!!!
Things have only gotten worse since then. Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century and we’re being told that Bernie Tiede, a young gay man, was completely out of control when he shot his friend, hid her body, and, over the course of many months, enjoyed living off of her money. The mere fact of his having to hide is sexual orientation, we’re told, left his thought processes and moral functioning so fragile he couldn’t be expected to comport with the order rules of human decency and morality. Be nice to gays, because they’re sub-human and can be deadly if denigrated. If I were gay, I wouldn’t be celebrating this verdict; I’d be insulted.
Do keep in mind that this is entirely different from a situation in which an East Texas jury convicted an innocent man solely because he was gay. This is a guilty man being freed because he was gay. That’s just so wrong.
Nugent’s family is unimpressed by Tiede’s new PC status as victim, rather than criminal:
A spokesman for the Nugent family, Ryan Gravatt, told the Texas Tribune that they believe that Tiede should remain in prison and serve out his life sentence.
“He confessed to her murder and his confession was admitted in his trial,” Gravatt told reporters. “A jury found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison, where he should remain.”
The Nugents have my sincere condolences, must as Moscone’s and Milk’s family and friends did when Dan White got away with murder because he liked junk food. The real crime is that, back in 1979, everyone knew that the Twinkie defense was a travesty, while in 2014, way too many people think that the “closeted gay” defense is something to be celebrated.