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Brandon Teena Murder Trial: 1995 - The Rape And Murder, The Trials, Gender Issues

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to Present

Defendants: John Lotter, Marvin Thomas Nissen
Crimes Charged: Murder, kidnap, rape
Chief Defense Lawyers: Lotter: Michael Fabian; Nissen: Peter Blakeslee
Chief Prosecutor: James Elworth
Judge: Robert Finn
Place: Falls City, Nebraska
Dates of Trials: Lotter: May 15-25, 1995; Nissen: February 21-March 3, 1995
Verdicts: Lotter: guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and four other charges; Nissen: guilty of first-degree murder of Brandon Teena and second-degree murder in deaths of potential witnesses Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine; also convicted of burglary
Sentences: Lotter: death; Nissen: three consecutive life terms

SIGNIFICANCE: Brandon Teena was born a girl. Later Teena decided to change sexual identification, and began to pass as a young man by the name of Brandon Teena. Brandon concealed the fact that he was biologically a woman. When his biological identity was uncovered, two young men who had befriended him as a man forcibly raped him. After Brandon reported the rape to the local sheriff, he did not arrest the rapists. A few days later the two men tracked down Brandon to an isolated farmhouse in Humboldt, Nebraska, where they killed him and two witnesses. Since Brandon Teena had chosen a gender identity different than that he was born with, his murder drew widespread attention. In particular, the transgendered community saw him as a martyr because he chose to be different.

Although born and raised as a girl, Brandon Teena made a conscious choice to live as a man. (Hence the use of the male pronoun to describe him in this entry.) Brandon was originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, and had moved to the Falls City area to take up his life as a man, hoping for an eventual sex-change operation. As a teenager, Brandon had several scrapes with the law over stolen credit cards and forged checks. Brandon passed as a man quite readily, dating a local girl in Falls City, Lana Tisdale, and befriending Thomas Nissen and John Lotter. Brandon would wear a sock in his pants in order to appear more male. John Lotter had previously dated Lana Tisdale.

In December 1993, local police arrested Brandon on a misdemeanor check forgery charge and at that time discovered that Brandon was biologically female. The police released the information. The information was published in the local Falls City Journal. Apparently both Lotter and Nissen, unsure of their own sexual identity, became enraged that Brandon had won the affection of Lana Tisdale. Lotter and Nissen, both of whom had already served time in the state penitentiary on other charges, had been involved in a variety of unhappy relationships, drank heavily, and had floated from job to job. The issues of homophobia, sexual insecurity, and enraged bigotry against those crossing the gender line came into disastrous confluence.

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