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 GETS LIFE
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.