Matthew Shepard Case Brief
Facts: Twenty one year old, University of Wyoming college student, Matthew Shepard, died October 12, 1998 at 12:53 a.m. after spending five days in a comma due to massive injuries and head trauma in a robbery and hate crime assault (Matthew Shepard, 2000 on-line). Matthew Shepard met Aaron McKinney (22) and Russell Henderson (21) of Laramie in a local bar called Fireside Lounge. McKinney and Henderson had been drinking. The two led Shepard to believe they were gay and lured Shepard to their truck. McKinney pulled out a gun and said, Guess what- were not gay and youre gonna get jacked. McKinney then told Shepard to give him his wallet. When Shepard refused, McKinney hit him with the gun. With Henderson behind the wheel, McKinney continued to strike Shepard. McKinney then told Henderson to get a rope out of the truck. McKinney allegedly tied Shepards beaten body to a wooden split-rail post fence, robbed him of his wallet and patent leather shoes, continued to beat him and left him to die for over 18 hours. Chasity Vera Pasley (20) and Krista Lean Price (18), the suspects girlfriends, hid the bloody shoes of Henderson and provided the suspects with alibis. Shepards shoes, coat and credit card were found in McKinneys pick-up truck; his wallet was found in McKinneys home. A .357 Magnum was also found in McKinneys home (Matthew Shepard, 2000 on-line).
On April 5, 1999, 22 year old, Aaron McKinney was found guilty of felony murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. 21 year old, Russell Henderson pled guilty to kidnapping and felony murder and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Two women described as the suspects girlfriends, Chasity Vera Pasley (20) and Krista Lean Price (18) were charged as accessories after the fact of first-degree murder (The Data Lounge, Issues 2000, on-line).
Issues: Aaron James McKinney seemed to believe that his allegation that Shepard had made a pass at him was sufficient grounds to justify joining with friend Russell Henderson in savagely beating Shepard, clubbing him with a handgun, lashing him to a wooden fence and leaving him to die. McKinneys attorney wanted the jury to accept that because McKinney has a homosexual encounter when he was younger and that he was under the influence of both drugs and alcohol when he alleges Shepard made a pass at him, that he was therefore not responsible for his actions. The theory was that the combination of those factors created a gay panic within McKinney, meaning that it amplified McKinneys own homophobia combined with a self-loathing fear that he might be gay and that it was this combination which created rage sufficient to result in the death of Matthew Shepard (Gay/Lesbian Issues, 2000, on-line). Henderson wished to change his plea. He agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping and to felony murder with robbery as the underlying cause (Cullen, Dave, 1999, on-line).
Decision: In regards to McKinney, the judge ruled that the defense was not admissible because, in a limited ruling, that the defense constituted a form of diminished capacity, or temporary insanity, defenses which are not valid under Wyoming law (Gay/Lesbian Issues, 2000, on-line). In regards to Henderson, he would accept the two life sentences to avoid the death penalty. The charge of premeditated murder would be dropped. The judge accepted the verdict and unveiled his next surprise. Henderson would waive his right to a pre-sentencing investigation, and the sentencing phase would commence on the spot (Cullen, Dave, 1999, on-line).
Reasons: In Wyoming, life means life; no chance for parole, only the unlikely prospect of a commutation by a future governor. By imposing the sentences consecutively, for Henderson, the judge wanted to make a statement and he did so (Cullen, Dave, 1999, on-line).The judge said, At the very least, you stood by while he was struck again and again and again (Cullen, Dave, 1999, on-line).
Comments: Wyoming has now passed a Hate Crimes Prevention Act. President Clinton plans to endorse a bill that would expand federal hate crime laws to include offenses based on sexual orientation. Under the bill, the current law would be expanded so that the Justice Department could prosecute crimes based on a persons sex,