Jack Black (left) and Bernie Tiede
Richard Linklater’s darkly funny hybrid of documentary and fiction, Bernie, featured Jack Black as a loveable closteted East Texas man. He played Bernie Tiede, a flamboyant gay mortician who befriended a mean old widow (played by Shirley McLaine). After a symbiotic, yet abusive relationship, he murdered her and then stored her body in a freezer until he was caught.
The black comedy may not have attracted many viewers, despite being one of Linklater's best (and most watchable) films in recent years, but it somehow managed to attract people to the protagonist's plight and allow him to be released before his sentence was up to new evidence and a more lenient sentence (something extremely rare in Texas jurisprudence).
As the New York Times reports, a judge in Panola County, Tex., ordered at least the temporary release of 55-year-old Tiede on Tuesday, May 6, who was convicted of murdering an 81-year-old companion in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison. It turns out, a lawyer was inspired by Linklater’s film and then turned up new evidence that Tiede had been sexually abused as a child. As the NYTimes states: "That revelation, combined with existing claims that Mr. Tiede had been verbally abused by the companion, Marjorie Nugent, softened a Texas prosecutor’s view of the motivation behind the crime."
When Bernie comes out, he wants to take care of him,” said Skip Hollandsworth, a journalist who has written extensively about Tiede’s case since 1998, and joined Linklater in writing the Bernie script.
Although Tiede has never come out publicly that he's gay, it's implied in the film. The fact that the prosecuting lawyer (played by Matthew McConaughey in the film) has turned into someone who wants to help and protect the imprisoned man is especially significant. He was persuaded when Jodi Cole, a lawyer and a fan of Linklater’s film, started digging through loose ends in the case. She discovered that Tiede had some self-help books for sexual abuse victims—which led to the prosecuting attorney's agreement to join in seeking a reduced sentence on the theory that Tiede would likely have been prosecuted only for second-degree murder if more had been known about his past.