One of the most powerful motion picture's dealing with Matthew Shepard's murder is HBO's "The Laramie Project." The telepic focuses on the townspeople of Laramie, Wyo, and what they learned about themselves and their neighbors once they were forced into the national spotlight.

Following Shepard's 1998 murder, the eight members of New York's Tectonic Theatre Project traveled to Laramie and over the next two years recorded over 400 hours of interviews. The resulting play was composed from the transcripts of the citizens own words. The impressive ensemble cast includes Nestor Carbonell, Clea Duvall, Christina Ricci, Jeremy Davies, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Janeane Garofalo, Joshua Jackson, Terry Kinney, Laura Linney, Frances Sternhagen and Camryn Manheim.
Check local listings and HBO for future airdate times and further information.

Aaron J. McKinney (22) has been chared with first-degree murder in the fatal beating of Matthew Shepard as well as aggravated assault and robbery. Russell A. Henderson (21) had first entered a not guilty plea but changed to guilty April 5. He will now face two consecutive life terms in prison with almost no chance for parole. His defense had contended that Henderson had witnessed the beating but did not participate, nor profit from the robbery. But the brutality of Matthew's Shepard is not the first brush with crime these two individuals have faced.

Only a few hours after beating, robbing and stringing Matthew's near-lifeless body to a fence a mile outside of Laramie and left to die in near-freezing temperatures for 18 hours, McKinney and Henderson allegedly assaulted two more youths in the small Wyoming town.

McKinney picked a fight with two Hispanic youths who were walking down the street. One of the youths, Emiliano Morales 3rd (19) recalled that a man, whom he lated identified as McKinney, Jumped him near a park just after midnight on Oct. 7. He said his friend Jeremy Herrara (18), had tried to warn him of the impending attack.
Henderson, McKinney

"Jeremy yelled, 'He's got a gun!" Morales said, and then the assailant "hit me in the head."

"Jeremy ran up and hit him with a stick," he continued, "and we took off."

The blow from the stick knocked McKinney to the ground.

Morales recieved 21 staples to repair his cut scalp.

McKinney, the father of a new baby, had suffered a hairline fracture of the skull and was treated at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. The same hospital, Mattew Shepard would be rushed to and succumb to his injuries.

McKinney is well-know in Laramie for his short temper and willingness to brawl. He was awaiting sentencing for burglarizing $2,500 from a Kentucky Fried Chicken resaurant before the beating of Shepard.

Like McKinney, Henderson had dropped out of Laramie High School, taking odd jobs that included cooking food at Taco Bell, pumping gas, and most recently, repairing roofs. By the time of his arrest last week, he had committed several driving offenses and had two convictions for drunken driving. Henderson was raised by his mother Cindy Dixon who often left him in the care of his grandparents and aunts. His father had long deserted the family. In a bizare and ironc twist, Henderson's mother Dixon was found in January on a two-lane road north of Laramie several hours after she had left a bar frozen to death from exposure to the harsh Wyoming elements. Police believe Dixon passed out from excessive drinking and simply froze to death. The death has been ruled accidental.

Brendan Murphy, an aquaintance of McKinney, said McKinney had expressed prejudiced toward both gays and racial minorities. Ms. Price said in in interview with the ABC News program 20/20 "he said that a guy walked up to him, and said that he was gay and wanted to get with Aaron and Russ." The two men beat him "to teach him a lesson not to come on to straight people." She also went on to say after the beating of Matthew, "he was crying, and he just kept throwing up. He just came in and hugged me, and said, 'I've done something horrible. I deserve to die.'"

The suspects girlfriends, Chasity V. Pasely (21) and Kristen Price (18) have been charged as accessories after-the fact in the Shepard case. Henderson and Pasely lived together in a rundown rented trailer, in an industrial section of town. Price was also a drop out from Laramie High School and took care of the couple's three-month old son full-time. Ms. Price and Ms. Pasely have been arraigned on charges of being accessories after the fact. If convicted they face penalties of up to three years in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. The two girlfriends of the suspects provided alibis, dumped Henderson's clothing in a trash bin and his bloody shoes in a storage shed at Ms. Pasely's mother's. The gun which was used to beat and murder Shepard, as well as being the suspected weapon on Morales, was found in McKinney's pick-up truck as were also found Matthew's credit card, coat and shoes. Shepards' wallet would later be discovered at McKinney's home wrapped in a dirty diaper in a garbage pail.

Officer Clint Waters, responding to a vandalism call, spotted Henderson and McKinney as they got out of a black pickup and crouched down. Waters turned on the patrol car's lights and the two men bolted in different directions. Waters tackled Henderson a half-block away when the young man was slowed by hedges in a back yard. Police said Waters found a bloody .357 Magnum in the back of the pick up and asked Henderson if it had been fired. According to police, Henderson lauged and said, "I guarantee you won't find anyone with a bullet in 'em." What police found was a badly beaten Shepard, who died five days later.

As expected Russell Henderson entered a plea bargain Monday April, 5 to felony murder and aggrivated robbery. He recieved two consecutive life terms in jail, one on each count, with virtually no chance for parole. After postponing opening statements from Tuesday to Wednesday for a public hearing on Henderson's case on Monday April 5, Henderson changed his not guilty plea to guilty in hopes for a plea bargain and reduced sentence. Judge Jeffrey Donnell told Henderson before sentencing to the two consecutive life sentences that he did not believe he was truly sorry for the "savage and brutal" crime. "Quite frankly the court does not believe you really feel a true remorse for your role in this matter." Appearing solemn Henderson made a brief apology to Shepard's parents. Matthew Shepard's mother Judy broke down several times as she described the horror of seeing her beaten son in the hospital. "I hope you never experience a day or night without experiencing the terror, humiliation, hopelessness and helplessness my son felt that night," Judy Shepard told Henderson through her tears. She described the family's vigil at his bedside, Matthew's brother Logan's anguised final goodbyes with his older sibling. "You have forever changed my family," she told Henderson. "There's a hole in my existence." Matthew's father Dennis described how he taught his son to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "Frere Jaques," and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Turning to Henderson, he said: "You, Mr. Henderson, sank the boat, ruined Jacques and shot down the star.

A preliminary hearing was held November 10 for McKinney and a full trial is set to begin October 11, ironically one day before the anniversary of Matthew's death. Pasley pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder December 23 and was sentenced May 21 to 15-24 months in prison. Kristen Price goes on trial in May on the accessory charge. In the Henderson case, Calvin Rerucha was the prosecuter, Wyatt Skaggs was his defender. Dion Custis, Jason Tangeman Skaggs are defenders for McKinney. Eight District Judge Barton R. Voigt of Douglas, Wyo. is the second judge in the case replacing Second District Judge Jeffrey A. Donnell who was disqualified from the case by McKinney's public defenders with no reason given. McKinney's public defenders are opposed to joint trial and though they sought to hold the trial in another venue from Laramie, that request was denied.

In May, 1999, Judy Shepard spoke before a U.S. Senate Panal to urge passage of a hate crimes legislation (S. 622). "I will never again experience Matt's laugh, his wonderful hugs, his stories," she said. "I know this measure is not a cure-all, and it won't stop all hate violence. But it will send the message that this senseless violence is unacceptable and un-American. My son Matthew was the victim of a brutal hate crime, and I believe this legislation is necassary to make sure no family again has to suffer like mine," Shepard testified through choked emotions. In September, 1999, Judy Shepard taped a series of public service announcements for the Human Rights Campaign in which Mrs. Shepard spoke of her loss of Matthew. The spots began airing in October. You can view two of the spots on this site by clicking on each title. The first is called "Friendship." The second is called "Parenthood."

Shepard had met Aaron McKinney (22), and Russell Henderson (21) of Laramie in a local bar on campus called Fireside Lounge. Henderson had said that he and McKinney had already been drinking beer when they went to the bar and ran into Shepard. Fireside Bartender later testified at Aaron McKinney\rquote s trial that he served drinks to Henderson and McKinney and said they did not seem drunk (this countered the McKinney defense that liquor and drugs incited the attack on Shepard.) Galloway told the court he watches for intoxication and said McKinney drank very little. \ldblquote He had no mannerisms or actions that would lead me to believe he was in a state of intoxication.\rdblquote The two had led Shepard to believe they were gay. Matthew, believing they wanted to discuss the politics and struggle of the gay movement, followed McKinney and Henderson into their truck. After getting in the truck, Henderson said "McKinney pulled out a gun and told Matthew Shepard to give him his wallet." McKinney said "Guess what. We're not gay. And you're gonna get jacked." When Mattew refused, McKinney hit him with the gun. With Henderson behind the wheel, they drove more than a mile outside Laramie, as Matthew begged for his life, McKinney struck him while Henderson laughed. "He (McKinney) told me to get a rope out of the truck," Henderson said. McKinney allegedly tied Shepard's beaten body to a wooden split-rail post fence, robbed him of his wallet and patent leather shoes, continued to beat him and then left him to die for over 18 hours bleed profusely in near freezing temperatures "with only the constant Wyoming wind as his companion," stated Prosecuter Calvin Rerucha in a McKinney hearing held November 10.

Jury selection in the Aaron McKinney trial began Monday, October 11, 1999 with opening statements and the actual trial beginning Monday, October 25, 1999. The jury was made up of 10 men and 6 women, including four alternates. Three students attending the University of Wyoming, where Shepard was a freshman studying human rights, are also seated on the jury. Defense lawyers Jason Tangeman and Dion Custis outlined their defense strategy in their opening statements to the jury by clearly blaming everything but the accused for the murder.
Tangeman told the jury that drugs, alcohol and past instances of sexual abuse on defendant Aaron McKinney, as well as overt sexual advances by diminuitive Shepard all conspired against McKinney to commit the crime. Tangeman told the jury several instances in which McKinney, starting at age 5, had been abused by other boys. In one case, when he was 7, McKinney had been forced to perform oral sex and engage in a sexual act with another 7-year-old neighborhood bully who deemed McKinney a homosexual. Tangeman also noted a \ldblquote confusing\rdblquote experience at age 15 with one of McKinney\rquote s cousins. Tangeman said the defendant was sexually abused as a child and lost control when Shepard made a pass at McKinney. Coupled with the fact that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, his past sexual abuse provoked the rage that lead to him beating Shepard. Tangeman quoted McKinney\rquote s testimony to the police: \ldblquote\rquote I don\rquote t know what happened. I blacked out. I felt possessed. It was like I left my body.\rquote\rdblquote Pointing as evidence to McKinney\rquote s intent to hurt but not kill Shepard, Tangeman again quoted a testimonial to the police by McKinney: \ldblquote\rquote I didn\rquote t intend to kill him\'85 I just hit him too hard.\rquote\rdblquote On this basis McKinney\rquote s defense is admitting McKinney\rquote s involvement and participation in the crime, even instigation of it, but instead are asking jurors not to convict on charges of first-degree murder, but instead on manslaughter which does not carry the death sentence as a penalty. \ldblquote Did Matthew Shepard deserve to die? No, that\rquote s ridiculous. No manslaughter victim deserved to die. That\rquote s what Aaron McKinney is guilty of, manslaughter,\rdblquote said Tangeman.
Tangeman outlined the events of Oct. 6, 1998 in his opening statements to the jury as such:
McKinney and Henderson went to a few local bars after work and stopped at the Fireside where they met Shepard. After buying a pitcher of beer with their change, McKinney and Henderson played pool. Eventually Shepard headed down to the bar where Henderson and McKinney were sitting. \ldblquote Eventually he asks for a ride home. From the demeanor of Mr. Shepard he (McKinney) thought he was gay,\rdblquote Tangeman said. \ldblquote Matthew Shepard grabbed his (McKinney\rquote s) genitals and licked his ear and at that point his past trauma\rquote s bubbled up inside him and fuled by drugs and alcohol in his own words he \lquote left his body,\rquote\rdblquote Tangeman stated. Fellow defense attorney Dion Custis further stated that Shepard, not McKinney, was the aggressor the night he died and that he sought out McKinney and Henderson for a ride. Custis suggested that Shepard was looking for a sexual partner that night and even gave McKinney a false home address while they drove. Custis said Shepard made an unwanted advance twords McKinney when he put his hands on the defendant\rquote s groin and stuck his tongue in McKinney\rquote s ear. These acts sent McKinney into \ldblquote five minutes of rage and chaos.\rdblquote
Prosecutor Cal Rerucha knew the \ldblquote gay panic\rdblquote defense was coming and counterattacked with his opening outline of the events that happened.
Fireside employees will testify, \ldblquote If anything stood out, it was the fragileness of Shepard,\rdblquote Rerucha stated. Henderson and McKinney approached Shepard. They had talked and agreed to rob Shepard. \ldblquote McKinney and Henderson picked Shepard out of the bar as an easy mark. The three left the bar in a truck, Henderson driving them out of town. Aaron said, \lquote We\rquote re not gay and you\rquote re getting jacked,\rquote\rdblquote Rerucha continued. McKinney then began hitting Shepard over the head with a .357-Magnum pistol. Rerucha said that when the beating started, Shepard pleaded with his attacker, telling him that while there was only $20 in his wallet, there was $150 at his home and they could have that. After stopping in a deserted field McKinney made Shepard get out of the truck. \ldblquote McKinney was worried Mr. Shepard could see his license plates,\rdblquote Rerucha said. Rerucha said \ldblquote McKinney asked \lquote Can you read my license plate?\rquote Matthew Shepard said, \lquote Yes I can read your license\rquote and read it.\rdblquote This further enraged McKinney who struck him three more times over the head as hard as he could, knocking him unconcious. \ldblquote Matt Shepard begged for his life. Matt Shepard negotiated for his life, but McKinney gave him blow after blow,\rdblquote Rerucha said.
Rerucha said his case will not deal with Shepard\rquote s gay lifestyle. \ldblquote It will simply be about the pain, suffering and death of Matthew Shepard at the hands of the defendant, Aaron James McKinney.\rdblquote

Russell Henderson's girlfriend Chastity Pasley testified at the murder trial of Aaron McKinney Thursday, October 28, 1999 saying that she and McKinney's girlfriend Kristen Price became accomplices in the crime. "(Henderson) kept telling me that it's all right. (Shepard will) be OK." She told the court that at the time she did not know who Shepard was. Pasley went on to say that Price telephoned her in a panic when the two men stayed out late the night of the attack. "She was kind of freaking out. She said Aaron just came in and said he killed somebody." This led to objections by the defense that the remarks were hearsay. Pasley said she had misgivings about getting involved and was "mad at myself" the next day as she, Henderson, McKinney and Price were at first going to burn (Henderson's) bloody clothes but ended up stashing them in a trash container near Cheyenne, Wyo. Police never found the clothes but did find Henderson's bloody shoes in a shed belonging to Pasley's mother. Pasley said the showes had been hidden rather than thrown away because they were expensive. "It looked like there was flesh on the clothes," Pasley testified about the bloody clothes. During testimony, Pasley told jurors that Henderson and McKinney got together after the beating "so they could get their stories straight. I knew that they beat somebody up and he was tied," she said. Pasley and Price also arranged to get their stories straight by at first telling police that the two women watched movies together the night of the attack and knew nothing of it. McKinney sat back in his chair at the defense table and smiled briefly when Ms. Pasley pointed to him.

According to Kristen Price, who testified shortly after Pasley, McKinney told her that "a gay guy had been hitting on him. The decided in the bathroom to pretend they were gay, get him in the truck and rob him." Price told the jury that she was at home when McKinney, covered in blood, returned from a night out with Henderson and told her, "I think I just killed someone." Ms. Price said she didn't think McKinney was telling the truth about the killing - "He always exaggerated so much I didn't believe him" - and that Henderson later assured her "that Aaron was just exaggerating." Price said McKinney washed off a wallet, two driver's licenses and a voter registration, all presumable belonging to Shepard. Price also said she did not see any signs that McKinney had been using drugs that night, even though she had frequently shared methamphetamines with him in the past, though she did acknowledge that she was not in McKinney's company continuously in the hours before the attack. During direct examination by the prosecution, Price testified that McKinney had said that Shepard touched either his leg or Henderson's leg while they were in the truck. However, during cross-examination, defense had her agree that McKinney said Shepard touched his leg. Despite that consession, Price's testimony countered defense claimes that McKinney did not intend to rob Shepard and that he was drunk and on drugs when he killed Shepard last October.

Judge Baron Voigt told defense attorney Dion Custis that he found no provisions in state law that allowed him to present a gay panic defense as the defense had been building. He noted unless the defense could satisfy him with the defense brief on the issue, he may disallow testimony and evidence to support it. Voigt has called the "gay panic" defense a fraud and has said that someone who did not like people of a different race could kill such a person and then try to introduce evidence about his own feelings and experiences.


McKinney agreed to serve life in prison without parole and promised never to appeal his conviction, and thereby avoided the death penalty. The jury was prepared to begin hearing arguments Thursday, November 4, 1999 on whether McKinney should get the death penalty or life in prison. Instead he accepted a deal that his lawyers had proposed to prosecutors and Shepard's parents. "I will never get over Judy Shepard's capacity to forgive," prosecutor Cal Rerucha said. Rerucha also said he found it ironic that the defense proposed the deal and asked the Shepard's to "give some relief, some type of pity to a person who had murdered their son." Exactly why the Shepard's agreed to the deal was unclear, though it may have been to avoid years of appeals. Rerucha said the appeal process is "almost inhumane." Dennis Shepard spoke in court Thursday to Mr. McKinney, "I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney, but now is the time to begin the healing process. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, or the Fourth of July, remember Matthew isn't. Every time you wake up in that prison cell, remember you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night." "You screwed up, Mr. McKinney," Shepard said. "You made the world realize that a person's lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution and violence." As Shepard spoke, he paused at times to wipe away tears, his voice breaking. Several jurors wept, along with members of both legal teams, spectators, Shepard's mother, Judy, and friends of the Shepards. McKinney's eyes welled up as he listened. McKinney's step-sister, Afton, walked out crying, her head resting on McKinney's father's shoulder. "I really don't know what to say other than that I'm truly sorry to the entire Shepard family," Aaron McKinney said in court. "Never will a day go by I won't be ashamed for what I have done." Dennis Shepard said his family wanted the trial to show that "this was a hate crime, pure and simple, with the added ingredient of robbery." He also asked Congress to pass a stronger hate-crime law and said he supports the death penalty. While McKinney was not convicted of pre-meditated first-degree murder, the jury found him guilty of felony first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery Wednesday, November 3, 1999. The verdict of two counts of felony murder could've made Aaron McKinney eligible for the death penalty.

The fence where Matthew was tied and left to die.

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