A new book suggests that the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., was not a hate crime based on his sexual orientation.
Journalist Stephen Jimenez writes that the 21-year-old was, instead, the victim of a drug-related crime.
Shepard was found tortured, suffering severe head injuries on Oct. 7, 1998. The man who found him on the prairie, a fellow University of Wyoming student, at first mistook Shepard for a scarecrow. He was hospitalized and died from his injuries Oct. 12.
In Jimenez’s book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truth About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, he claims Shepard “died because he had been involved with Laramie’s drug underworld rather than because he was gay.”
Shepard is an icon of gay rights and equality activists. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard act in 2009 to expand the 1969 federal hate crime laws. His parents founded with Matthew Shepard Foundation supported equal rights and supporting LGBT youth.
Shepard met two men on Oct. 6, 1998, believed to be strangers, and they offered him a ride home. Accused murderers Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson claimed they hadn’t targeted Shepard, but rather they beat him up after he came on to them – the “gay panic” defense. They argued they were so distressed by Shepard’s sexual advances towards them that they were driven temporarily insane.
They drove him out to a remote area, robbed him, pistol whipped him and left him propped up on a fence.
Jimenez claims Shepard was a meth dealer and one of his killers was on a five-day meth binge on the night Shepard was tortured and left to die.
Based on a letter he obtained Jimenez says one of his killers, Aaron McKinney, had a sexual relationship with Shepard and that gay panic could have very well been involved.
“Basically the letter was saying that the defense raised by Aaron McKinney’s defense team of ‘gay panic’ was false and the evidence that was cited for that was that Aaron McKinney had been a male hustler, that he was familiar with gay guys in gay bars,” Jimenez told The Dish. “It mentioned at first both Aaron and Russell, but as the letter went on it spoke more about Aaron, mentioning that he really did like having sex with gay guys, that he wasn’t unfamiliar with homosexuality and the gay world.”
The Matthew Shepard Foundation believes Jimenez’s book is unfounded.
“Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law,” the Foundation said in a statement. “We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead we recommit ourselves to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it. We owe that to the tens of thousands of donors, activists, volunteers, and allies to the cause of equality who have made our work possible.”