By KEVIN O'HANLON
LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska's Supreme Court ruled Friday that a former sheriff was negligent for not protecting a cross-dressing woman whose rape and murder were dramatized in the movie "Boys Don't Cry."
In a scathing opinion, Chief Justice John Hendry ordered that the victim's mother be awarded $80,000, plus damages for emotional distress.
The decision reversed a ruling by a lower-court judge who said 21-year-old Teena Brandon, who posed as a man and went by the name Brandon Teena, was partly responsible for her own death.
In 1993, Brandon reported to the sheriff that two friends of hers had raped her after learning her true gender. About a week later, the two men killed her in a Humboldt farmhouse, along with two others who witnessed the slaying.
Brandon's mother, Joann Brandon, sued Sheriff Charles Laux and the county for more than $350,000, saying he should have offering her daughter protective custody. A judge awarded just $17,360.
On Friday, the high court said the sheriff was more concerned with Brandon's sexuality than he was with keeping her safe after she had reported she was raped.
Brandon's mother hailed the ruling.
"I am so happy today," Joann Brandon said in a statement. "Nothing will bring Teena back, but I will sleep better knowing that we have 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."
An attorney for the sheriff and Richardson County had no immediate comment.
In the ruling, the court said Laux showed indifference to the rape allegation by referring to Brandon as "it" and not immediately arresting the two suspects, who had threatened to kill her if she reported the rape.
Laux's tone on the tape-recorded interview was "demeaning, accusatory and intimidating," the court said.
The Supreme Court instructed a lower court to refigure emotional damages, but did not specify a minimum or maximum. State law caps such damages at $1 million.
The 1999 movie "Boys Don't Cry" earned Hilary Swank an Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of Brandon.
Thirty-one civil rights groups, including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights organization, filed briefs in the Supreme Court case.
John Lotter was sentenced to the electric chair for the killings and is awaiting execution. Marvin Nissen testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Neither was ever charged with rape.