Thursday, November 11, 2004

Matthew Shepard Murder Not a Hate Crime?


November 11, 2004 -- ABC is preparing a major investigation of the Matthew Shepard gay-bashing murder that contends it may not have been a hate crime — but a mugging gone wrong.
Friends and family of Shepard — who became a national symbol of the senseless violence against gays — as well as gay activists are upset about the report, scheduled to air on "20/20" later this month.
Shepard, 22, was a gay college student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 by two locals.
The killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell A. Henderson, pleaded guilty and are each serving consecutive, double life sentences.
But in their first interviews since they were convicted, McKinney and Henderson claim anti-gay bias had nothing to do with the crime.
In a press release promoting the show, ABC promised "surprising revelations, including Laramie's underground world of methamphetamine use that may have contributed to the crime and whether or not Shepard knew his killers."
"ABC News' press release about this show definitely raised our eyebrows, and we'll be watching," said Joan M. Garry, Executive Director, Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation.
According to one person who has seen a rough of the episode, "20/20" raises the possibility that Shepard was mugged for his money, not because he was gay.
"Does it make Aaron McKinney and Russell A. Henderson any less guilty of the crime that they committed? Absolutely not," says Romain Patterson, one of Shepard's close friends.
"You just don't kick someone in the crotch over and over again unless you have a real problem with their sexuality," she says. "To imply otherwise, in my opinion, is irresponsible, and I think it's irresponsible to be giving a voice to two very guilty men."
The interviews apparently violate the plea agreements the two men signed at their sentencing. According to reports, the men agreed never to talk to the media about the case as part of the agreement that spared them the death penalty.
Henderson's lawyer, Tim Newcomb, did not return calls yesterday.
ABC declined to make the piece, slated to air Nov. 26, available to The Post.
"The murder of Matthew Shepard was and is a heinous and viscous crime," ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says.
"Exploring and re-examining the facts around that murder in a very thoughtful and in-depth way is the very essence of responsible journalism. This new information in no way diminishes the importance of the national conversation that took place after Matthew Shepard's murder."