A sheriff should have done more to protect a transgender woman who was raped and later murdered, a lawyer for her family told the state's highest court.
In the case that inspired the movie Boys Don't Cry, attorney Herb Friedman said Friday that former Sheriff Charles Laux was more concerned with Teena Brandon's sexuality than with keeping her safe.
"He knew these people were brutal," Friedman said in state Supreme Court, comparing his inaction to throwing a puppy to the wolves.
Brandon, 21, posed as a young man and called herself Brandon Teena. She was killed in 1993 by two men who wanted to silence her for reporting that they raped her after learning her true gender.
The men also killed two other people who witnessed Brandon's death.
Mother Sues Sheriff
Brandon's mother, Joann Brandon, sued Laux for not offering Brandon protective custody when she reported the rape and the men's death threats.
A county district judge in 1999 found the county partially at fault for the death and ordered the county to pay $17,360.
Brandon's mother had sought more than $350,000 and is appealing the damage amount.
Friedman said the sheriff showed indifference to the rape allegation by referring to Brandon as "it" and not immediately arresting the men she accused, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen.
According to court records, Laux's interrogation included questions like "Do you run around … with a sock in your pants to make you look like a boy?" and "The girls that don't know about you … do you kiss them?"
Richard Boucher, representing the county, said Laux was trying to establish Brandon's credibility.
"Sheriff Laux advised Ms. Brandon that … some of the questions would be rude, but the county attorney would need them if we went to trial," Boucher said.
He also said the sheriff was trying to determine if Brandon, who knew Lotter and Nissen, had agreed to have sex with them. That explanation appeared to anger some of the justices.
"What evidence was there that there was any type of consensual sexual activity?" Judge John Gerrard asked. Judge Michael McCormack said: "He's looking at more than a rape — he's looking at a threat to kill."
Lotter received three death sentences for the killings and is awaiting execution. Nissen, in a deal with prosecutors, testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison.
Thirty-one gay and civil rights groups have filed briefs in the case.
"The civil rights community across the country has come together to emphasize how important the decision in this case will be," said David Buckel, an attorney for the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "This case has to do with what kind of deterrent we will have to hate crime in the state of Nebraska."
Boys Don't Cry earned Hilary Swank an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Brandon. Chloe Sevigny received a best supporting actress nomination for playing Lana Tisdel, Brandon's girlfriend. The slaying also was the subject of a 1998 documentary, The Brandon Teena Story.