Exclusive: John Lotter Death Row Interview

By: Chad Silber Email
By: Chad Silber Email
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A New Year's Eve night 19 years ago changed the lives of several families forever.

The triple murder happened in a rural farmhouse near Humboldt, Nebraska.

By the stroke of midnight, three people were dead including Brandon Teena, also known as Teena Brandon -- a 21-year-old transgendered Nebraskan.

The man convicted of the murders, John Lotter, still sits on death row.

Most everyone who lived in Nebraska in 1993 remembers hearing about the murders. Lotter, at the center of it all, is accused of shooting and killing Teena, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine. The court ruled Lotter and Marvin Nissen raped and killed Teena after learning *he* was actually a *she.* The other two just happened to be there at the time.

Lotter has maintained his innocence. For his plea deal, Nissen was sentenced to life in prison, Lotter to death row. And that's where he's been for the past 16 years, waiting for his final punishment, but hoping for an appeal.

Chad Silber went to death row for this exclusive one-on-one interview.

Silber: "Do you think that you will be executed?

Lotter: "There was a time I'd say no but, I don't know. Now I don't sit there and say no to that possibility. With the way things have went especially here of late, it's clearly getting more and more of a possibility."

The appeals haven't gone his way. First denied by the Federal Court of Appeals and now a rejection from the U.S Supreme Court in March. As he sits at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, he knows his time is almost up.

Silber: "What is it like knowing that it's possible you could get a call tomorrow and it's someone from the State and they say, this is the day that you're going to be executed?"

Lotter: "I don't look at it in that term, I just look at it, I've got an appeal in front of the court and I know that that could go one way or the other. Then I know after I get to a certain stage, there's that possibility that a date would be set but I know that isn't etched in stone."

Silber: "Are you ready to die?"

Lotter: "Unless there's some kind of mental defect in them, everybody has a will to live. Everybody's going to fight with every breath they have to live. I don't have that mental defect so, of course, I'm going to fight for every last breath that I have to prove my innocence and get out of here."

Lotter's push to prove his innocence faces a hurdle that he might not be able to cross. During their trials, Nissen testified that Lotter was the one who pulled the trigger. Then twelve years later, he changed his story and said he murdered the three, but because of a three-year statute of limitations passed by the State Legislature, Nissen's admission isn't allowed in an appeal without DNA evidence.

Lotter: "The way they have (DNA) set up, the way they tore it down by the time it got passed was that DNA would be essentially the gateway and once you had DNA, then you could put all the evidence that supported that DNA."

Silber: "Do you think that you will be exonerated?"

Lotter: "I think if I was able to have the hearing, if I was able to have a full-fledged hearing where I could put on the evidence, I think I could prove my innocence. I really do."

But the statute has been on a books since the early 1900's and there's no sign it'll change anytime soon.

As Lotter sits on death row, the battle over the lethal injection drug, Sodium Thiopental, heats up. The overseas drug maker recently recalled the drug but the State is refusing to give it back, claiming the drug was obtained legally.

Lotter: "If you're saying that regular citizens can't buy drugs to get cheaper drugs so they don't have to pay the high cost of what the pharmaceutical companies are selling, then the State of Nebraska or any other state shouldn't be able to buy lethal injection drugs that come from other countries as well."

If Lotter had his choice, he'd rather die by electric chair. "If they're going to kill me and I'm innocent, then I don't want them to have the pleasure of making it seem humane. I want them to fully take in the wrong that I feel that they'd be doing against me."

Lotter knows the movie 'Boys Don't Cry' isn't helping his cause. The film, inspired by the murders, was released six years after. It portrays Lotter as the person who pulled the trigger. "That's one thing people always say, when they see that movie, it reflects me in this light and then people get that and they automatically look at me and that's who they think I am."

But he says the movie doesn't run parallel with reality. "If you base your opinion of this case and the facts on what was at trial, then looking at the movie and then looking at the trial, right there it tells you that the movie's not based on fact."

His chances for an appeal are growing slimmer by the day. It's possible he'll be the next one to be executed. But he's holding out hope to prove his innocence.

Silber: "Why should people care about John Lotter?"

Lotter: "I think they should care about me because a system they know is flawed...there's people that have been executed that they know are innocent and they know that with the justice system, there's human error."

Silber: "How do you want people to remember you?"

Lotter: "I don't know, I don't think I can answer that question. I've made my mistakes in life, I think everybody makes mistakes but I didn't make this mistake so I guess if anything, that I was an innocent man that was caught up in something that the court didn't believe I could prove, I guess."

But he's determined to continue that fight until the very end.


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