Man on death row in 'Boys Don't Cry' case is engaged to be married -
Published Monday, May 13, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:10 am
John Lotter
Man on death row in 'Boys Don't Cry' case is engaged to be married

LINCOLN — A Nebraska death row inmate whose killings were depicted in the movie “Boys Don't Cry” is engaged to be married.

John Lotter and a woman from Washington state recently applied for a marriage license at the courthouse in Tecumseh, Neb., the community closest to the state prison where death row inmates are housed.

Lotter, 41, said in an interview last week that he has not yet gotten married. But he otherwise declined to discuss his plans or his relationship with Jeanne Bissonnette, 50, of Lakewood, Wash.

“I'd really like to keep this part of me as private as I can,” he said.

Phone messages left with Bissonnette were not returned.

State prison officials do not keep records of inmate weddings, but they were unaware of any previous marriage involving a death row inmate.

The marriage license is valid for one year.

Lotter was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder in the 1993 killings of three people at a rented farmhouse near Humboldt, Neb.

Lotter and Marvin Thomas Nissen targeted Teena Brandon, 21, of Lincoln, who was born female but lived as a man, used “Brandon” as a first name and dated women. They drove Brandon to a rural area and raped Brandon on Christmas Day 1993. The men sought to silence Brandon after they discovered Brandon had reported the assault to law enforcement.

They also killed two others staying in the house: Lisa Lambert, 24, and Phillip DeVine, 22.

The case inspired a 1999 film that won actress Hilary Swank an Academy Award for her portrayal of Brandon Teena.

Lotter has always maintained his innocence, but he has failed in several appeals to persuade a court to overturn his convictions.

At trial in 1995, Nissen testified that Lotter fired the gun that killed all three victims. Nissen downplayed his involvement, saying he only stabbed Teena.

Nissen's cooperation with authorities earned him a life sentence, which would have to be commuted by the Nebraska Board of Pardons for him to be released.

In 2007, Nissen recanted and said that he both fired the gun and wielded the knife. But he maintained that Lotter was present during the killings. Under Nebraska's felony murder law, Lotter's presence in the farmhouse at the time of the killings was enough to result in first-degree murder convictions.

In 2006, Nissen became engaged to a Chicago woman who started writing letters to him in prison. They did not follow through with the marriage.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services does not track the number of weddings that take place in state institutions each year, said Dawn Renee Smith, the department's spokeswoman. But there have been weddings of inmates serving life terms.

Prison weddings follow a strict policy that allows only two witnesses and someone to perform the ceremony. The inmate is allowed to receive a ring and photos of the ceremony, but there can be no refreshments or decorations.

Nebraska does not allow the couple to consummate the union, nor does the state permit conjugal visits for married inmates.

During last week's interview, Lotter was more willing to talk about a bill to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska. The Legislature is scheduled to begin debating the measure this week.

Lotter said he does not think most people behind bars are deterred by the death penalty, or even think about it before they act.

While he hopes lawmakers will repeal the death penalty, he said he will continue his fight to prove his innocence.

He and others will watch the debate on public television.

“I'm not going to get my hopes up,” he said. “I'm just not going to put myself through that roller coaster.”

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587,

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

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