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Why We Must Take Challenges to the Matthew Shepard Story Seriously

Why We Must Take Challenges to the Matthew Shepard Story Seriously
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Everyone in America knows the story of Matthew Shepard. Probably equally familiar are the two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were given double life sentences for Shepard’s murder. It is the most infamous anti-gay hate crime to ever happen in America. Or is it?

A new book by journalist Stephen Jimenez called “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” argues that the crime was not solely if it all motivated by anti-gay feelings on McKinney and Henderson’s part, but rather the result of a desperately awful series of events that center not on Matthew Shepard’s gay identity, but his and McKinney’s being part of Laramie’s extensive drug scene.

Matthew Shepard’s Murder: The Accepted Narrative

To establish how radical a departure Jimenez’s book offers from what is commonly understood about Matthew Shepard’s murder, we must first consider the accepted version of events.

On the night/early morning of 6–7 of October, 21-year-old university student Matthew Shepard, with his golden hair, elfish good looks and slight build, met two strangers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, 22 and 21 respectively, at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming.

Frequently reduced to the simple characterization of “rednecks” (and yes, the juxtaposition of their physical characteristics is important), McKinney and Henderson had, so the story goes, decided to rob a trusting and vulnerable Matthew and offered to give him a ride home.

Henderson then drove McKinney and Shepard to a remote area at the edge of a farmer’s plot of land, where they pistol-whipped Matthew Shepard before lashing him to a fence post and leaving him for dead. Shepard, still alive but in a coma, would be discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist who, in an image that would become emblematic, said he mistook Shepard for a scarecrow.

Shepard was then taken to the hospital, but his brain injuries were too severe for doctors to operate. Shepard was pronounced dead at 12:53 a.m. on October 12.

The anti-gay animus behind the attack was apparently confirmed when during the subsequent murder trial, McKinney’s lawyers advanced the so-called “gay panic” defense, that Matthew Shepard had come on to McKinney and McKinney had flown into a rage related to a traumatic event of sexual abuse when he was young.

Both McKinney and Henderson made plea bargains, agreeing that anti-gay animus had played a substantial role in the murder and therein avoided the death penalty.

This was further supported by McKinney’s then-girlfriend and mother of his child, Kristen Price, who at the time granted a television interview in which she said that McKinney and Henderson “just wanted to beat [Shepard] up bad enough to teach him a lesson not to come on to straight people.”

The gay panic defense wasn’t ultimately viable and so did not play a part in the official sentence. Similarly, since Wyoming did not have a gay-inclusive hate crimes statute, and the evidence for a hate crime wasn’t technically sufficient either, McKinney and Henderson could not have been charged in that manner.

Yet, for the media and the court of public opinion, the matter was settled: Matthew Shepard’s murder was a horrific anti-gay hate crime.

In the wake of Matthew Shepard’s death, a foundation was set up in his name and his mother, Judy Shepard, became a tireless campaigner for hate crimes laws and acceptance of LGBTs, having by any standard done a laudable amount of good in the wake of such tragedy. This culminated in 2009 with the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act that gave federal recognition to anti-LGBT bias motivated crimes.

This, with a few minor variations, is likely the story that many readers are familiar with. Jimenez, however, argues something very different.

Next: Read the hidden truths Jimenez says he unearthed in the Matthew Shepard story.

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Photo credit: Cover image used under fair use terms.

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11:14PM PST on Feb 19, 2014

"But for some reason that I can't fathom, the people of Laramie want this vicious, vile murder to be drug- related."

"The people of Laramie" had nothing to do with this book. Most who were interviewed were part of Matthew's drug (and sex) circle in DENVER.
The man who wrote this book is a gay news reporter from NEW YORK.
The producers at 20/20 who did the 2004 report are also not residents of Laramie.
The producer who approved it is also a gay New Yorker.

But I will tell you who is a Laramie resident:
Dave O'Malley, the lead investigator, who lied when he said a toxicology report was done.
Rob DeBree, who also lied about the toxicology report to make the gay angle fit.
Tim Newcomb, who buckled to pressure and wrote in a statement that he "agrees with all of the Laramie's law enforcement that this was a hate crime".
Jason Marsden who reported from the Casper Star Tribune that this was DEFINITELY a hate crime when one of the investigators confirmed for him that it *might* be.
All the stupid brainless youth at UW who continue to WANT this to be a hate crime, as I guess it puts their tiny little town on the map or something.
And both the killers themselves (especially Aaron), all WANT this to be a hate crime as well.

All of Laramie agrees with you, bud! Even the killers! It's New York that doesn't!
And Denver!

5:57PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Rest in peace, Matthew Shepard!

7:49AM PDT on Oct 15, 2013


12:34PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

Let the dead rest in peace.

7:39AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

autopsy showed no drugs - end of story - this account is fiction using the nicest word, and fabrication using the most accurate

2:33PM PDT on Oct 12, 2013

noted thanks

11:40PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

All stories have hidden angles- does not change fact- murder is murder.

12:54PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013


7:39AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

So Julia W. "Leah,

"There *was* a toxicology report. Even before Matthew Shepard was brought in -- he spent 18 hours alone, tied to that fence, Aaron McKinney went to the ER. He'd beaten up someone else up, or tried to, that night and his girlfriend brought him in.

Rob Debree, Lead Investigator on the Matthew Shepard case for the Sherrif's: "We've proven that there was no drugs on board with McKinney and Henderson... just NONE. We had blood samples from both of them that night because they both ended up in the hospital. Even through their own statements the last time they did meth was... two to three weeks prior."

That is showing absolutely that the book has lies in it. The book says the attacker was strung out on drugs. All of it should be tossed in the trash where it belongs.

6:39AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

Jacob R...
""Everyone in America" knows the story?
I had no idea who Matthew Shepard was..... and I'm certain I'm not alone."

Well, for someone who posts here who claims to know so much, if you TRULY didn't know about this story, then it's just more proof that reasonable, intelligent, caring people should totally ignore your usual nonsense!

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