After 18 years: Federal Judge Rejects Lotter's Latest Appeal In Teena Brandon Case
Lotter. Photo: Nebraska Department of Corrections.
Condemned killer John Lotter lost again.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf has dismissed Lotter’s latest appeal of his conviction for the notorious murder of Teena Brandon and two other people 18 years ago.
The 1993 case became famous when the story of Brandon, who sometimes represented herself to be a man, was the subject of the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” Hillary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon.
In refusing to hear Lotter’s appeal, Kopf said it had been reviewed by the courts numerous times and that Lotter had been well-represented by a series of attorneys. He concluded the judicial exercise provided Lotter a fair trial, thorough appeals and continuing representation.
Insofar as observing Lotter’s rights, Kopf said, the state needdn’t have second thoughts about executing him if his sentence eventually is carried out.
Lotter and co-defendant Thomas Nissen were charged with first-degree murder for the slayings of Brandon, 21; Lisa Lambert, 24, and Phillip DeVine, 22 In a Richardson County farmhouse.
Brandon had accused Lotter and Nissen of raping her. Lotter later said he and Nissen had been angered by her portrayal of herself as a man.
Nissen testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Life imprisonment or the death penalty are the only sentences permitted in Nebraska after a conviction for first-degree murder. In 2007 he recanted his story and said that he, not Lotter, shot the three victims. His earlier story was that Lotter did the shooting. If the courts had believed Nissen’s story, he would not have been eligible for the death penalty since he previously had been tried and sentenced.
There are 12 men on Nebraska's death row. No execution dates have been set.
It was a cold morning on December 31 in Humboldt, Nebraska, the heart of the Midwest. While many households were rising to prepare to bring in 1994, one sat ominously silent. Anna Mae Lambert drove up the driveway of the rented farmhouse just outside town to visit her daughter and grandson. In moments, she was calling the police.The Humboldt Rescue Squad took the call around 10:20 a.m. They were prepared for a long day, knowing that some people start their festivities early, and those who drink sometimes let loose demons. The Richardson County Sheriff's Department told them there'd been some deaths at the old farmhouse that had once belonged to Frank Rist. They thought one was a baby. Could they check it out?The rescue crew quickly assembled, picked up a doctor and drove out to the farm, followed closely by Deputy Ray Harrod. No one knew quite what to expect.Potentially, this was a crime scene, so Harrod entered to secure it. The first thing he saw was a young African- American man with a prosthetic leg slumped against the couch. A coffee table lay over his lap. Going closer, Harrod saw that the man was dead. There was an entrance wound in his jaw and an exit wound on the right side of his head. Yet there were no other signs of struggle in the room and nothing about the corpse revealed what had happened. It could have been a suicide, but there was no gun. Had someone taken it?A search of the rest of the house was in order. Harrod moved toward the dining room. Oddly enough, a woman sat at the table feeding a baby. It was she who had made the call to police, she explained. She understood not to disturb a crime scene. She was the grandmother to this child and mother to one of the victims. Victims? That meant there was more than one body here.Anna Mae Lambert directed him to a bedroom.Harrod ventured within, aware right away that the floor was flooded. Lying on a leaking waterbed were two people in their early twenties, a blond woman and a baby-faced young man with brown hair. They both appeared to have been shot execution style. Looking around for a weapon, the deputy found none. He had no idea who they were.
When Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux eventually entered to have a look, he recognized one of the women on the bed as Teena Brandon, 21, who'd reported that John Lotter and Tom Nissen had raped her a week earlier, after a Christmas party.Brandon lay on her back on the lower part of the bed, her legs dangling over the edge and her hands bloody. She was fully clothed, but her sweatshirt showed a large area of blood that had soaked through from her abdomen. Her white socks were pink from watered-down blood soaked up from the floor. Lifting her sweatshirt, officers saw a jagged wound, apparently made by a knife. Further up, a small bullet hole was evident under her chin, surrounded by gunpowder residue. That meant she'd been shot at close range. A fracture on her skull indicated that she'd been hit with a blunt object. Of the three bodies, hers was the most ravaged, so it was possible that she had been the primary target.Lisa Lambert, 24, was partly under the covers, but there was a bullet wound to her right eye. Blood also ran out of her mouth and another wound was found in her stomach. It appeared that's she'd been sitting up in bed when shot.The evidence collection unit of the Nebraska State Patrol was called in. They came out from Lincoln, but had to get an accident reconstruction expert to look at the tire tracks near the front porch, because it was too messed up to get a cast. They then went in to search for weapons and dust the place for fingerprints. A lone footprint and a red spot near the front door were photographed. They assumed that if a gun were located, recovered bullets from the bodies would help them identify it.Checking the victim on the couch, they saw another bullet entry point in his neck. From a wallet found in a bedroom, he was identified as Phillip DeVine, age 19, and it appeared that he'd been sleeping there.Six shell casings were found in the flooded bedroom, along with a spent bullet and a live cartridge. A cigarette lighter was collected as potential evidence, as were the contents of an ashtray. Along with swabs from two blood spots, these were bagged and sent to the criminalistics lab in Lincoln. Then the bodies were removed to the hospital morgue for autopsy. Arrest warrants for sexual assault were issued for John Lotter and Marvin Thomas Nissen, and when apprehended, they would be questioned in the matter of these murders. They were under heavy suspicion.It didn't take long to find out that three people had needlessly died because two young men had been unable to deal with someone who was different.The hospital where they took samples for a rape kit, was an ordeal, but the question was different.Richardson County Sheriff Charles B. Laux had never heard this kind of thing before. He knew what rape and assault were, but this creature who passed himself off as a boy was something completely new and exotic... and not in a good way. Of their way to question her, he obviously found it to be disgusting sexual preferences, and was later quoted as referring to it as "he."In fact, transgender individuals are often met with confusion, prejudice and utter disbelief. Also known as gender dysphoria, the psychiatric bible, DSM-IV, lists of transsexuality as a persistent gender identity disorder. In general, it is a state of conflict between sexual orientation and physical self. In other words, sex-related structures of the brain associated with gender are the opposite of the sexual organs físicas.As people born as girls feel more oriented in the world as boys, and boys and girls. They may feel trapped and resentful miserably. The meaning of sex is part of their identity, and it is disconcerting to be expected to act a certain way when that's not how things feel.This conflict becomes part of consciousness early on, when the girls played to be tomboys and boys played at being a sissy. They begin to doubt themselves, and can even develop a deep self-loathing, caused by being out of tune an intolerant society. Your needs become a source of embarrassment and suffering. They are often driven to "fix" themselves, but can not always achieve it, and the estimate of suicides by 30 years of age among transsexuals is about 50%. Even going to a therapist does not necessarily work, since some mental health professionals believe it is a matter of curing the "disease". Often, doctors will encourage hormone treatments and sex change operations to bring gender orientation in line with the physical body. This seems to be the best approach and has been very successful with many transsexuals, but not everyone can afford. The transition also can be quite painful.Homosexuality sometimes occurs in conjunction with transsexuality, but not always, to take a person like Brandon is also a lesbian is not understand how Brandon expressed his identity. Nor is it about the sexual fetish known as cross-dressing or transvestism. Brandon may have looked feminine, but he felt better as a man.Sheriff Laux was supposed to be asking questions specific to Brandon's rape and assault, but he stepped aside to ask things like, "Why do you girls think you're a guy?" And "Do you kiss them?" He hinted that something was wrong with Brandon and insisted that I needed answers because these were issues that arise in court. Brandon reached as prurient and unnecessary, so sometimes he refused to answer. He was later called uncooperative.Laux acted as if he discounted claims to be a virgin, and Brandon kept asking probing questions about their sexual experiences. Brandon was not surprised, he insisted that John Lotter had pulled down his pants and stroked it not? "Not that kind of, ah, call your attention in any way?" He asked. In fact, he insisted on this point, asking him at least three times. He seemed convinced that a man would have a naked woman under his control and can not take the least touch their private parts. He also suggested that during the rape, John Brandon had physically stimulated to get it going.What was said at the end of the interview will never be known because the last part of the tape was erased.Brandon signed a complaint and took the two men would be caught. There was every reason to believe that they can act on its threat, so the sooner they were off the streets, the better.After three days, deputies went to question the suspects and thought they should be arrested, but Laux not allow it. On the fourth day after the sister of Brandon Laux Tammy called to question why the suspects had not been seized, and she was surprised by his atitude.Ele not think it should be interfering. He would do what needed to be done.However, these were men with criminal records. City boys had rejected John as a child, and with brain damage and a low IQ, he was always in a kind of problem or another. Tom was a victim of abuse who suffered from major depression and liked to cut. Both were heavy drinkers, and there was evidence that Tom had abused his wife. May they be guilty of assault was no surprise, then why were they still free?No one knows why Laux could not move on the charge of Brandon, but his decisions allowed them the time needed to carry out his threat.
Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena