For this case, I will be “traveling” to Laramie, Wyoming. I will be discussing the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard. Two men, pretending to be gay, picked up Matthew. They robbed and brutally assaulted him, leaving him in the cold to die. I decided to do Matt’s case because June is LGBT Pride month. I wanted to do a few cases this month to remember victims in the community and the struggles that we faced. When thinking of cases, my first thought Went to Matthew. This is one of the first true crime cases, i remember. I credit it with my ambition to support the LGBT community, long before I realized I was a member of the community.
Disclosure: This story includes talk of mental health issues, hates crimes specifically in the gay community, rape, and brutal description of murder. If any of these subjects are a trigger for please take care of yourself, and check out some of my other stories! I Never victim blame nor do I make excuses for people who commit these horrendous crimes. I believe in learning from these tragic events. The history of these awful people is important to think about what led up to the events and how to resolve the problem before it led to murder.
Matthew Wayne Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming, on December 1, 1976. His father was Dennis Shepard. Dennis who earned a degree in education, from the University of Wyoming. He later worked as an Oil Industry Safety Engineer. He married Judith Peck (I will be referring to her as Judy for short). Before Matt was born, the moved to Casper. Matthew was Episcopalian and even served as an altar boy.
In 1981, Dennis and Judy welcomed their second son, logan. Matt and Logan had a very close relationship. Matthew was friendly to his classmates, as a young child, but was target of bullies, due to his small size. He attended Natrona High School until 1994, when he attended American School in Switzerland, graduating in 1995. At the school, Matt became involved in Theatre, as well as Italian and German. His father accepted a job offer in Saudi Arabia. The nearest American boarding schools were located in switzerland. Judy and Dennis decided to let Matt finish high school there. He was very likable and so easy to talk to that his classmates chose Matt to be a peer counselor.
Matthew enjoyed traveling and developed interest in visiting new places and meeting a variety of place. This interest led Matt to attending college in different locations. First, Matt attended Catawba College in North Carolina. Then, Matt returned back to Wyoming, where he attended Casper College. Matt then briefly moved to Denver, Colorado. He eventually settled on Majoring in Political Science, with a major of Languages, at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie.
Matt Showed an interest in Politics early on. His classmates named him as the student representative for UW’s Wyoming Environmental Council. In 1995, while on a school trip to Morocco, an attack left Matt beaten and raped. Due to the attack, Matt dealt with depression and panic attacks. Matt began to suffer from sicidal ideation and hospitalized a few times. A friend showed worry for Matt because he thought he may abuse drugs to cope.
On the evening of October 7, 1998, a teenager named Aaron Kreifels, fell off his mountain bike. He saw what he thought was either a scarecrow or a Halloween costume, since it was October. However, he looked closer and realized he saw a dead body; later identified as Matt.
Reggie Fluty, a police officer, arrived for the scene. She first saw a young man, who she thought was a young child, due to his small build. She noticed his face, covered in blood from the brutal beating. In fact, the only spot with no blood, was on his cheeks, where he had tears running down his face. She tried to open his airway, but could not open his mouth. The cold weather froze his mouth shut. I looked up the weather for that day and it got as cold as 29 degrees the previous night. Reggie recalled saying to the victim “Baby boy, I’m here kiddo, you’re going to be OK, hang in there, don’t give up, come on, you can do this”.
They rushed him to the Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie. Later, doctors transferred him to the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins in Fort Collins, Colorado, since the hospital had a more advanced trauma unit. He had a lot of injuries. His injuries including multiple fractures to the back and side of his head, severe brainstem damage, and small lacerations around his head, neck, and face. Doctors compared his injuries to a dramatic car accident. These injuries made it impossible for doctors to operate and he never regained consciousness so was out on full life support. His parents rushed from Saudi Arabia to Colorado and said that the only way the recognized Matt was because of his dental Brace. Five days later, on October 12, at 12:53 A.M., Matt was pronounced dead at the age of 21.
The Murder of Matthew
On the night October 6, 1998, Matt met with his friends to plan LBGT awareness week. After the get together, Matt was not ready to got home, but his friends did not want to continue the hang out. They dropped Matt off at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming.
Matthew, sitting alone at the bar, where two men approached him. The men, in their twenties, named Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who offered to give Matt a ride home. Aaron and Russell lured Matt to their vehicle. As soon as Matt got in their car, they pulled out a gun and beat him. Matthew gave over his wallet, containing twenty dollars. They drove him to a remote, rural area and they robbed him. The men proceeded to tied him to a log fence with clothesline. Then they proceeded to torture, beat him with a pistol. Lastly, they stole his leather shoes and left him there alone to die. This occurred shortly after midnight and they left him there for 18 hours, before teen Aaron found Matt.
Arrests and Trial
Police Arrested both Aaron and Russell and initially charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. The charge upgraded to First Degree Murder, after Matt passed away, making them eligible for the death penalty. The police also charged Kristen Price and Chasity Pasley, the killers’ girlfriends, with accessories, after the fact. Aaron had his pretrial in November of 1998, where the court saw Detective Rob Debree testify that he said in an interview that him and Russell originally planned to rob Matt; they pretended to be gay and lured him to the truck. The plan changed after Matt put his hand on Aaron’s knee and he just lost it. He used this in court to get, in my opinion, the idiotic “gay panic defense”. The next month, Chasity plead guilty to accessory after the fact.
On April 5, 1999, Russell pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping charges to avoid a trial. Russell testified against Aaron to avoid the death penalty. The court sentenced Aaron to two life sentences per the District Judge Jeffrey A. Donnell. The main thing that differed between the two men’s stories was that Russell’s lawyer claimed that it had nothing to do with Matt’s sexual orientation.
Aaron’s trial occurred from October to November 1999 and it was the prosecutor’s goal to prove it was a hate crime. Kristen, Aaron’s girlfriend, testified that they pretended to be gay to lure Matt to rob. This is when Aaron’s lawyer attempted to use that ridiculous gay pain defense; that he was driven to temporary insanity when Matt made advances to him (very victim blaming, by the way). Either way this was rejected by the judge, as it should be.
His lawyer stood by the fact, Aaron never planned to murder Matt. The prosecutor argued that the murder was premeditated by “greed and violence”. The Court found Aaron not guilty of Premeditated Murder and guilty of Felony Murder. Yhey however, struggled with sentencing Aaron with the death sentence. Matt’s parents worked out a deal that he would get two life sentences without the possibility of parole. They both were at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, but were later moved due to overcrowding, to other prisons.
I am going to talk about this hateful individual named Fred Phelps. He is the leader of this cult that is disguised as a church. they are the definition of trash. We are talking about the Westboro Baptist Church. They are known to protest funerals, like soldiers, the LBGT communities, and even tried to protest Robin Williams funeral, probably due to his support of the LBGT community. They protested Matt’s funeral with signs that said “Matt in Hell” and other hateful things that I do not even want to type. Matt’s Friend Romaine Patterson, created a group to circle the protesters, dressed like angels. Unfortunately, Matt’s parents could still hear their ignorance. Police intervened and separated the groups. Romaine later founded an organization, called Angel Action, to block out the cult’s protests, from other families’ funerals.
Judy, Matt’s mom, became an avid LBGT activist after his Death. Alongside her husband, Dennis, she founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation. After years of trying, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate crime Prevention Act , was put into action in 2009. James was an African American man who was killed when white supremacists dragged him behind their truck, in 1998. In June 2019, Matt got inducted into the first group of people celebrated on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor, in the Stonewall Inn, at the Stonewall Monument.
20 years after Matt’s death, on October 26, 2018, His ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral. The ceremony was led by Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first openly gay Episcopalian Bishop, and music included the famous Mens Chorus of Washington DC. This was the first internment of a public figure since Helen Keller, 50 years prior.
There have been several stage plays and musicals, including the most successful The Laramie Project. Jason Collins, who played basketball with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards the 2013-2014 season, wore the number 98 in tribute to Matt, and came out later that season. In 2009, Judy wrote a biography called The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. This was a heart wrenching book that detailed her memories of Matt, her loss, him being on life support, and their support and struggles.
This case was extremely hard for me to get through. I meant to post this a week ago, but it took me longer to get through and had to take a lot of breaks. That being said, it is a very important case to discuss, as the LGBT community still faces discrimination and hate crimes. So for my thought on the killers are that I have no doubts that they targeted a gay man and it was pure hate that ended his life. I could not find much on the murderers’ childhoods, but if I had to take a guess, hate is taught not something you are born to feel.
Also, I would I have to mention this book called The Story of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard. Steven Jimenez supposedly interviewed 100 people and they said Matt was a drug dealer, abused to Heroin, and was a prostitute. First off I do not believe any of that. If he actually interview 100 people, it was probably people that did not know Matt. Even if that was true, these two homophobic freaks were not friends. They targeted him because he was gay. It was not from the gay community. To say otherwise is ignorant. They admitted it was because he was gay, plus you don;t beat someone for drugs or money; you would just shoot him. pistol whipping shows it was personal.
As for my lessons, who is reading this, regardless of gender or orientation: If you go to a bar, take a friend, and do not go home with strangers. You just never know people’s intentions. So many gay people are a target and it is just tragic.
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