Matthew Shepard’s murder not due to his sexuality, claims new book
The 1998 murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, became a lightning rod for America’s attitude to sexuality, but a new book says it was drugs, not homophobia, that was the motivation.
Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten to death by two men in Wyoming, becoming a powerful symbol in the fight for hate crimes legislation, which Obama successfully introduced in 2009.
Theatrical dramatisations based on interviews with the townsfolk, The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project Ten Years Later, examined the fear and prejudice of the town, which became a case study in how America deals with homosexuality.
But a new book claims the university student’s murder was for “reasons far more complicated” than being homosexual.
Stephen Jimenez’s The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard which is also based on interviews with the townspeople, contradicts police testimony and national consensus that the University of Wyoming student was targeted by his killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, because he was gay.
According to a statement from the book’s media kit: “[Jimenez’s] 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. As a gay man, he felt an added moral imperative to tell Matthew’s story. But what Jimenez eventually found in Wyoming was a tangled web of secrets.”
Jimenez claims his efforts to clearly explain the crime led him to twenty states and Washington, D.C., as well as into the “deadly underworld of drug trafficking”.
Jimenez told The Dish he found important evidence in a formerly-sealed court document, an anonymous letter.
“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 said.
“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 says Jimenez is attempting to rewrite history:
“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’s statement reads.
“We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead, we remain committed 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.”
McKinney and Henderson, both of whom are serving life sentences in Wyoming for the killing, broke their silence on the case in 2004 during their first public interview following the attack.
They said they were motivated by the prospect of robbery to feed a methamphetamine binge rather than violent homophobia.