On Oct. 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, died at a hospital in Colorado nearly a week after being beaten and lashed to a fence post before being found by bicyclists. Shepard’s death turned the college student into a powerful symbol of the quest for acceptance and equal rights.
The Associated Press is republishing a version of its report of Shepard’s death to mark the 20th anniversary .
A gay college student who was lured from a campus hangout, beaten and lashed to a split-rail fence died Monday, and the two young men arrested in the attack now face murder charges that could bring the death penalty.
Matthew Shepard, 21, died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., while on life support. His skull was so badly smashed that doctors could not perform surgery, hospital president Rulon Stacey said.
The University of Wyoming student had been in a coma since bicyclists found him in near-freezing temperatures Wednesday evening. They at first mistook him for a scarecrow.
The attack has spurred calls nationwide for hate-crimes legislation protecting gays. President Clinton pressed Congress to expand the federal hate-crimes law to cover offenses based on disability or sexual orientation.
“Americans will once again search their hearts and do what they can to reduce their own fear and anxiety and anger at people who are different,” Clinton said. “And I hope that Congress will pass the hate-crime legislation.”
Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, were originally charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and jailed on $ 100,000 bail each.
Police said that with Shepard’s death, the charges against them will be upgraded to first-degree murder, which carries a possible death sentence.
Their girlfriends — Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18 — were charged with being accessories after the fact. Police said the women helped dump bloody clothing and initially lied about their whereabouts.
Police said that robbery was the main motive but that Shepard apparently was chosen in part because he was gay. The 5-foot-2, 105-pound Shepard had been beaten twice in recent months, attacks he attributed to his homosexuality.
In a statement issued by the hospital, Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, urged parents to hug their children and enjoy every day with them.
“He came into the world premature and left the world premature and they are most grateful for the time they had to spend with Matthew,” the hospital president said.
Of the 41 states that have hate-crime laws, 21 states specifically cover offenses motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation. Efforts to pass a hate-crime law in Wyoming have failed several times.
On Monday, the giant rainbow flag that symbolizes the gay movement was lowered to half-staff in San Francisco’s Castro District. College students rallied in downtown Denver to remember Shepard and denounce violence. And in Laramie, where the long-planned Gay Awareness Week began, some students wore yellow and green armbands to send a message of peace.
“It’s a great loss to everyone, whether they knew him or not. He was an incredible individual,” said Jim Osborn, a friend of Shepard’s and chairman of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered Association, a University of Wyoming student group.
“To beat somebody and tie them to a fencepost and beat them some more, obviously you’re trying to make a statement,” said Erik Abbott, a 25-year-old University of Wyoming student. “Obviously these people felt this was the feeling of the community as a whole, and it’s not.”
Shepard was remembered on Monday by about 800 people who attended a memorial service on Prexy’s Pasture, the sprawling green on the University of Wyoming campus that students cross several times a day.
Friends gathered with many who were strangers to Shepard, who died Monday.
“I had never met Matthew; I’ll never have that chance,” said Jesus Rios, president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming. “But without a doubt Matthew’s life and death have impacted my life in ways I won’t soon forget.”
Authorities have withheld many details in the case, and a judge is considering a prosecutor’s request to seal the records.
Police said the two men lured Shepard out of the Fireside bar late Tuesday or early Wednesday by telling him they were gay. The three of them got in McKinney’s truck, where the beating began, police said.
Later, Shepard was tied up and pistol-whipped as he begged for his life, and he was robbed of his wallet and black patent leather shoes, police said. A .357 Magnum used to beat Shepard was found at McKinney’s home, police said.
McKinney’s girlfriend, Ms. Price, and his father, Bill McKinney, told The Denver Post that the two men didn’t set out to kill Shepard but wanted to get back at him for making passes at McKinney in front of his friends.
Police said that early Wednesday morning, apparently after they left Shepard, Aaron McKinney and Henderson were involved in an altercation with Emiliano Morales III, 19, and Jeremy Herrera, 18, both of Laramie.
Morales and Herrera said they were the victims of an unprovoked attack, in which McKinney and Henderson repeatedly swore at them on a Laramie street corner.
“Next thing I know, Jeremy yelled, ‘He’s got a gun.’ I looked over and he (McKinney) hit me on the head,” Morales said. “Jeremy ran up and hit him with a stick and we took off.”
Both McKinney and Morales were treated for head injuries after the altercation.
Police said the investigation into that street fight led to the arrests of McKinney and Henderson after Shepard’s body was found, a half-day later and about two miles away.
At the fence where Shepard was left behind, there was a single basket of flowers Monday.
A funeral was planned for Saturday in Casper, where Shepard was born, and a campus memorial service was being planned.
Source: The Associated Press