Matthew Shepard

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Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard (December 1, 1976October 12, 1998) was a college student who was brutally tortured and murdered in a hate crime. Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was robbed and attacked by two men near Laramie, Wyoming on the night of October 6October 7 because of his homosexuality. Shepard died from his wounds several days later. His killers are currently in prison.



Shepard was born in Casper, the eldest son of Dennis Shepard and Judy Peck Shepard. He attended Crest Hill Grade School, Dean Morgan Junior High, and the first two years of high school at Natrona County High School, and was a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Shepard spent his junior and senior years of high school at The American School In Switzerland, graduating in 1995. Shepard later attended Catawba College and Casper College before moving to Denver. Shepard then became a first-year political science major at the University of Wyoming in Wyoming.

The attack

Shepard, a 21-year-old, met Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson in a bar. After he confided to them that he was gay, they deceived him into leaving with them in their car. He was robbed, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. McKinney and Henderson also found out his address, intending to burgle his home. Shepard was discovered 18 hours later, alive and unconscious.

Shepard's suffered from a fracture from the back of his head to the front of his right ear. He also had catastrophic brain stem damage, which affected his body's ability to regulate heartbeat, body temperature, and other vital signs. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. Shepard never regained consciousness and remained on full life support. He died at 12:53 a.m. on October 12 at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The blood on Shepard's face had been partly washed away by tears, indicating that he had been conscious for some time after the beating. He had been pistol-whipped 18 times with a .357-caliber revolver.

Police arrested McKinney and Henderson shortly thereafter, finding the bloody gun as well as the victim's shoes and credit card in their truck. The two murderers had attempted to get alibis from their girlfriends.

The trial

It is believed that McKinney and Henderson had posed as homosexuals in order to trick Shepard into trusting them. During court cases both of the defendants used varying stories to defend their actions. Most notably they used the "gay panic defense", arguing that they were driven to temporary insanity by Shepard's alleged homosexual advances towards them. At another point they stated that they had only wanted to rob Shepard, and never intended to kill him.

Henderson pleaded guilty on April 5, 1999 and agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty; he received two consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole. The jury in McKinney's trial found him guilty of first degree murder. As it began to deliberate on the death penalty, Shepard's parents brokered a deal, resulting in McKinney also receiving two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. Shepard's parents stated, "We are giving him life in the memory of one who no longer lives" (local Roman Catholic clerics garnered considerable publicity when they stridently opposed the death penalty in the case). Since being imprisoned, McKinney and Henderson have both attempted to justify their actions by claiming that they were dictated by the Bible.

The aftershock

The heavy media coverage of Shepard's death brought issues of homophobia and gay-bashing to the forefront of public debate.

People in the entertainment industry expressed their own outrage and responded in various ways to the hate represented by the attacks. Actress Ellen DeGeneres hosted Shepard's memorial services in Washington, D.C. where she said that her coming out of the closet shortly before the attacks was "to keep this type of thing from happening". Lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge wrote the song "Scarecrow" in a tribute to Shepard, referring to his initially being mistaken for a scarecrow when he was found. Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote the song "American Triangle" a tribute to Shepard. It was featured on John's 2001 album, Songs from the West Coast. The fence upon which Shepard was tied and left to die has been declared a nationally protected monument. The rock band Thursday, also played a song named "M. Shepard" about the incident and the reason society let it happen. Two films were made about the story of Shepard: The Laramie Project (based on the play of the same name) and The Matthew Shepard Story. Both won numerous awards. Matthew Shepard can also be seen in the documentary Dear Jesse, in a brief interview.

The anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps and his supporters picketed Shepard's funeral, as well as the trial of his assailants. They displayed signs typical of their protests, with slogans such as "Matt Shepard rots in Hell", "AIDS Kills Fags Dead", and "God Hates Fags". Phelps has since made attempts to gain a city permit to build a monument "of marble or granite 5 or 6 feet in height" on which will be a bronze plaque bearing Shepard's picture and the words: "MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

As a counterprotest during Henderson's trial, Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard's, organised a group of individuals who assembled in a circle around the Phelps group wearing white robes and gigantic wings that literally blocked the protesters (who were confined to a small protest square by police) from the view of passers-by. While the organisation had no name in the initial demonstration, it has since been ascribed various titles, including 'Angels of Peace' and 'Angel Action'.

A similar angel tactic has been reused a number of times at other protests by Phelps, but less effectively as the "Angels" are now required to stay in their own separate protest square.

Matthew's parents Judy and Dennis are now active supporters of gay rights and tolerance educators.

The Shepard case prompted President Bill Clinton to renew attempts to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gays, women and the disabled. These efforts were rejected by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives in 1999.

See also

External links

de:Matthew Shepard zh:马修·谢巴德


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