A new book revives a decade-old claim that Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 murder inspired watershed hate crimes legislation, was not killed because he was gay.
Instead, his brutal torture-slaying in Laramie, Wyoming by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were convicted of the crime, was motivated by drugs and robbery.
Stephen Jimenez, author of “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” produced a widely-criticized segment of the ABC News program “20/20” in 2004, making the same claim. One review of the segment shortly after it aired dismissed its supposedly “shocking new infomation” as “mostly speculation, scandalous details, unreliable new witnesses and revised confessions.”
In the book, Jimenez, who says he interviewed more than 100 sources in the course of a 13-year investigation, says that the accepted account of Shepard’s killing is wrong.
McKinney and Henderson were not driven by homophobia to savagely beat Shepard (pictured) and leave him tied to a wire fence to die. In fact, Jimenez reports, McKinney had sex with Shepard and “really did like having sex with gay guys.”
McKinney who is serving a double life sentence for Shepard’s murder, as is Henderson, has denied having sex with Shepard or with any men at all.
The book claims that McKinney and Shepard had also used methamphetamine together and in fact, the two killers were on a days-long methamphetamine high when they beat the University of Wyoming freshman to death on October 6, 1998.
The motive, Jimenez asserts, was a poorly conceived robbery, not hatred of gay people. The two convicted killers made the same assertion when interviewed for Jimenez’s “20/20” segment in 2004.
At his trial, McKinney attempted to use a “gay panic” defense which could have reduced the charge against him to manslaughter. A judge disallowed the argument, which claimed that McKinney freaked out over fears that he, himself, might be gay. So he killed Shepard in a sudden fit of fear.
Jimenez is also gay. A press release accompanying his new book says that he began researching the Shepard case because, “his aim was to write a screenplay on what he, and the rest of the nation, believed to be an open-and-shut case of bigoted violence.”
But in 2004, the publication Gay City News discovered an email showing that even before Jimenez began researching the “20/20” story, he had already made up his mind that Shepard’s murder was not a hate crime.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, making assault motivated by prejudice against a particular race or sexual orientation a federal crime.
Sources: Fox News, AtlanticWire, New York Magazine, Gay City News, NYU Department of Journalism, Wikipedia