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Court Orders Bigger Payout in 'Boys Don't Cry' Case

Law: Teena Brandon's mother deemed to deserve more from sheriff who taunted rape victim in gender crisis.

April 21, 2001|From Reuters

LINCOLN, Neb. — The mother of a murdered cross-dressing young woman whose story inspired the movie "Boys Don't Cry" deserves more compensation for her daughter's death, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In a scathing ruling that demanded a larger damage award against Richardson County and its sheriff, Charles Laux, the state's highest court declared a lower court had erred in awarding just $17,361 to JoAnn Brandon for official negligence in the death of her daughter, Teena Brandon.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to a district court for a new determination of damages.

Hilary Swank won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Teena Brandon in the 1999 film "Boys Don't Cry." Brandon, who cut her hair and dated a woman, passed as a man. When her true gender was discovered, she was beaten and raped and later murdered by two male acquaintances in a small Nebraska town in December 1993. Two witnesses also were killed.

The story was also the subject of a long article in the New Yorker magazine and an earlier documentary.

In his review of the case, Chief Justice John Hendry said Judge Orville Coady's decision not to award damages to Brandon's mother for the loss of her daughter's companionship "shocks the conscience."

A tape-recorded interview that Laux conducted with Brandon after she was raped on Christmas Day revealed that he was insensitive and had a "negative attitude" toward her sexuality, Hendry ruled. Laux referred to Brandon as "it" on a few occasions.

The court said Brandon, who had been convicted of forgery and had fled her home in Lincoln, was sexually abused as a child. She suffered from a gender identity crisis, in which one is repulsed by one's own gender, the court said.

In his exchange with Brandon, Laux repeatedly suggested in "locker room talk" that she might have seduced her attackers, the court said.

"The tape-recording reveals that Laux's tone throughout the interview was demeaning, accusatory and intimidating," the court said. "Based upon the undisputed facts in this case, we determine as a matter of law that Laux's conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

The ruling said Laux and his department failed in their duty to protect Brandon once she agreed to testify against her attackers. It said authorities were aware of death threats against her by the rapists, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen.

On Dec. 31, the two tracked down Brandon at a friend's house where she was hiding and killed her and the two others.

Lotter is on death row, and Nissen, who cooperated with authorities, is serving a life sentence.

JoAnn Brandon, who testified at the trial about her close relationship with Teena, said she was gratified.

"Nothing will bring Teena back, but I will sleep better knowing that we found some justice for her, and because of this case, fewer parents will find their children abused and exposed to danger by law enforcement officials," she told the Omaha World-Herald newspaper.

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