$100K Ruled Enough For 'Boys' Mother

Teena Brandon, Lincoln, Nebraska AP

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected an attempt to increase the damage award to the mother of a cross-dressing woman whose murder by two men inspired the 1999 movie "Boys Don't Cry."

The high court ruled in a case stemming from the 1993 murder of 21-year-old Teena Brandon and two other people in a farmhouse near Humboldt.

The role earned Hilary Swank an Academy Award in 1999 for best actress for her portrayal of Teena Brandon. The slaying also was the subject of a 1998 documentary, "The Brandon Teena Story."

Teena Brandon, 21, was posing as a man and using the alias Brandon Teena when two acquaintances, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen, learned her true gender. She told the local sheriff they had raped her, but they were not arrested.

They murdered her about a week later.

Her mother, JoAnn Brandon, had asked for more than $350,000 in damages, alleging that former Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux's indifference led to Teena Brandon's murder.

District Judge Orville Coady awarded $17,360 in total damages, ruling that Teena Brandon was partly responsible for her own death because of her lifestyle.

In a scathing, 20-page opinion issued last year, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry said Laux was more concerned with Teena Brandon's sexuality than he was with keeping her safe after she reported being raped.

Hendry said Laux showed indifference by referring to Teena Brandon as "it" and not immediately arresting the two suspects, who had threatened to kill her if she reported the rape.

Hendry said Laux's tone on the tape-recorded interview was "demeaning, accusatory and intimidating."

In last year's ruling, the high court ordered Coady to award at least $80,000 to Brandon's mother.

Coady then awarded her $98,223, including $5,000 for the loss of her daughter and $7,000 for her daughter's emotional distress.

Coady did not find personal liability against Laux. However, he did admonish him and ordered him to apologize to the Brandon family for his behavior.

On Friday, the high court upheld the award, recognizing Coady's determination that the relationship between Teena and JoAnn Brandon was strained.

"While this does not mean that there is no relationship for which compensation can be awarded...it is certainly relevant to the amount of damages to be awarded, particularly given the lack of an exact fiscal formula to determination of damages recoverable for loss of society, comfort and companionship," wrote Judge John Gerrard.

As for the emotional distress, the court said that while Teena Brandon "was scared of Laux and did not want to talk to him again...Brandon's fears were focused primarily on Lotter and Nissen."

Brandon's attorney, Herb Friedman, was not in his office and could not be reached for comment.

Kim Sturzenegger, who represented Laux and Richardson County, did not immediately return a telephone call to her office seeking comment.

Thirty-four civil rights groups, including the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed briefs in the supreme court case.

Lotter received three death sentences for the killings and is awaiting execution in the state's electric chair. Nissen, in a deal with prosecutors, testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison.

Neither was ever charged with rape.

Laux is now a guard for the state prison in Tecumseh where Lotter sits on Nebraska's death row.
  • Lloyd Vries

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