The years-long battle to secure justice and accountability for the murder of Brandon Teena--a transgendered 21-year-old who was brutally raped and then killed by his rapists after law enforcement officials failed to intervene--reaches the Nebraska supreme court for the second time Tuesday, when justices will hear arguments over financial damages awarded to the victim's mother. "It's tragic when any parent loses a child to violent crime, but when that crime could have been avoided had law enforcement done its job instead of reacting with hate toward the victim, it becomes an outrage," said David S. Buckel, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund senior staff attorney representing JoAnn Brandon in the case. "Brandon Teena was devalued as a human being by his murderers. We can't let law enforcement get away with doing the same thing."
The state supreme court ruled last year in favor of JoAnn Brandon, the mother of Brandon Teena, holding Richardson County sheriff Charles Laux accountable for his failure to protect Teena. A lower court had shifted most of the responsibility away from the sheriff--finding Teena partly responsible for his own death--and had awarded minimal damages to JoAnn Brandon. The Nebraska supreme court ruling sent the case back to the lower court for a reassessment. Even though the supreme court had ruled unanimously that the minimal damages awarded to JoAnn Brandon "shocks the conscience," the lower court recently awarded just $7,000 for the emotional distress suffered by Teena before his death and just $5,000--less than even the funeral expenses--for the loss to the mother. Tuesday's arguments mark the third time the case has been appealed.