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Archive for Sunday, November 3, 2002

Infamous Neb. sheriff running for job in new county

November 3, 2002

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— The former sheriff widely criticized for mishandling the infamous Teena Brandon rape and murder case faces two challengers in his race to become sheriff in Johnson County.

Charles Laux was sheriff in neighboring Richardson County from 1987 to 1995 before losing in 1996.

Laux was criticized for his handling of rape charges brought in 1993 by Brandon, whose subsequent murder by those she accused of assaulting her inspired the critically acclaimed 1999 movie "Boys Don't Cry."

Laux currently works as a prison guard at the state prison in Tecumseh. He previously served on the Richardson County Board of Commissioners from 1997 until he lost a re-election bid in 2000.

Laux, a Democrat, is running for sheriff against current Johnson County Sheriff Stan Osterhoudt, a Republican, and Jim Wenzl, an independent who got on the ballot via petition this summer.

Osterhoudt, 52, is seeking his third term as sheriff.

Wenzl, 33, works as a corrections officer at the Lancaster County Jail. He ran for Johnson County Sheriff in 1998 and lost to Osterhoudt by 81 votes.

Wenzl said if elected he would work to make the office more responsive to people in the area. He declined to comment on Laux's candidacy.

"I've run this race based on my own merit. I'm not going to judge anybody else," Wenzl said. "It's a free country, and anyone can run for office."

Laux, 55, still lives in Richardson County. A 1986 law allows people to run for sheriff in any county, but they must move to the county where they serve if elected.

Ironically, the Nebraska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Election Day in a case brought by Brandon's mother against Laux and Richardson County.

Brandon's mother, Joann Brandon, is seeking to reverse a lower court's ruling ordering Richardson County to award her $7,000 for emotional distress and $5,000 for what the lower court called Brandon's "intrinsic value."

Joann Brandon contends that is not enough money for the emotional distress Laux caused or for her loss of her daughter's companionship.

In a scathing, 20-page opinion last year, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry said Laux was more concerned with Brandon's sexuality than he was with keeping her safe after she reported the rape.

John Lotter and Marvin Nissen killed Brandon on New Year's Eve 1993 in a farmhouse near Humboldt after she reported the rape.

The pair also killed two people who witnessed Brandon's death.

Laux's interrogation of Brandon after the rape included questions such as "Do you run around ... with a sock in your pants to make you look like a boy?" and he referred to her as an "it," according to court records.

Lotter is on death row at the Tecumseh prison where Laux works. Policies are in place to ensure Laux does not work anywhere where he might encounter Lotter, said state Department of Corrections spokesman Steve King.

Nissen is serving life in a Lincoln prison.

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