Matthew Shepard Murder
October 6, 1998
The story of Matthew Shepard. He was born in Casper, Wyoming on December 1, 1976 to Judy and Dennis Shepard. He and his family moved to Saudia Arabia when he was a high school junior, but Matthew finished school at the American School in Switzerland because there were no American high schools in Saudi Arabia. Matthew was well-liked by his fellow students in both high schools After graduating from high school and attending a couple different colleges, Matt moved back to Wyoming where he studied political science, foreign relations and languages at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Matthew Shepard Murder
On October 6, 1998 Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, strangers to Matthew, met him at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie. Because of his small stature, McKinney and Henderson figured Shepard would be easy to rob. They said they'd give a ride home but drove to a rural area where they tied him to a split-rail fence, beat him severely with the butt of a .357 Smith & Wesson pistol, and left him to die in the near-freezing temperatures of the early morning hours of October 7. 18 hour later Aaron Kreifels, a biker, discovered Shepard. So badly beaten that Kreifels at thought Shepard was a scarecrow. Shepard was still alive but comatose. Medics rushed him 65 miles to Fort Collins, Colorado where he remained in a coma for four days. Doctors pronounced him dead at 12:53 A.M. on October 12, 1998. He was 21 years old.
Westboro Baptist Church
On October 17, the Shepard family buried Matthew. Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, took his church's "God Hates Fags" message to the funeral. Two of his picket signs read: "No Tears for Queers" and "Fag Matt in Hell."
On April 5, 1999 Russell Henderson pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Aaron McKinney to avoid the death penalty; Henderson would receive two consecutive life sentences. The jury in McKinney's trial found him guilty of felony murder. As they began to deliberate on the death penalty, Shepard's parents brokered a deal, resulting in McKinney receiving two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
On April 3, 2001 Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill died when it failed to advance in the Subcommittee on Crime. On April 2, 2004 The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act reintroduced. It failed to advance in committee. On May 26, 2005 The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act reintroduced. It failed to advance in committee. On March 30, 2007 The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act reintroduced a fourth time. The 2007 version of the bill added gender identity to the list of suspect classes for prosecution of hate crimes. The bill was again referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. On May 3, 2007. The House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but the bill got stuck in Senate committee. On September 27, 2007, the Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to another bill. President George W Bush indicated he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk. Democratic leadership dropped the amendment because of opposition from conservative groups and President George Bush.
President Barak Obama
On April 2, 2009 Rep John Conyers for a fifth time introduced the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It has the support of President Obama. On October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Act as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010. The measure expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
During the years that followed Shepard's brutal murder, the Shepard family received donations from all over the world. They decided to begin the Matthew Shepard Foundation. It's mission is to empower individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs. It strives to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. [link to MSF]
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