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Bringing Home Bernie

Director Richard Linklater talks about letting a convicted murderer live with him

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When convicted murderer Bernie Tiede — the real-life inspiration for Richard Linklater’s 2012 film Bernie, starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine — walked out of prison on May 6 after almost 17 years behind bars, there were strict conditions: He had to post a $10,000 bond, maintain employment, and…move into an apartment on Linklater’s property in Austin? “What people hear is that the judge ordered Bernie to live with me, like now we’re The Odd Couple or something,” says Linklater with a laugh. “I have a garage apartment and I let friends and family stay there. Bernie is a friend. He’s getting [back] on his feet. To me, it’s not a big deal.”

In 1999, Tiede received a life sentence for killing his 81-year-old companion, Marjorie Nugent. But after Bernie brought the case back into the public eye, new lawyers joined his quest to be released. Both Tiede’s lawyers and the district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson, agreed that Nugent’s murder was a crime of passion — rather than a premeditated one — and they asked a judge for a lighter sentence. (His lawyers also discovered that Tiede, now 55, had been a victim of sexual abuse when he was younger.) Linklater is quick to deflect credit for springing Tiede and praises Tiede’s lawyers and Davidson instead. He also points out that there are plenty of folks behind bars who don’t deserve to be. “There’s a lot of people who didn’t have much money and got crappy lawyers,” says the director. “Most guys don’t have a movie made about them.”

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