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Monday, October 14, 2013

Fifteen years ago this week in Wyoming

   Fifteen years ago yesterday Matthew Shepard died in Wyoming.  He had been beaten and brutalized because he was gay.  This is a summary of the killing from the website started by some of his friends :

      "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 Matthew Galloway later testified at Aaron McKinney’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. “He had no mannerisms or actions that would lead me to believe he was in a state of intoxication.” 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 Matthew 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. According to Henderson, 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 Prosecutor Calvin Rerucha in a McKinney hearing held November 10, 1999."

"A bicyclist, Aaron Kreifels, happened by chance to discover Matthew's body October 7, 1998 and rushed to the nearby home of University of Wyoming professor Charles W. Dolan to phone police. “He sounded to me like his lungs were full of blood. He was breathing hard,” Kreifels testified October 26, 1999 at the Aaron McKinney trial. Dolan and Kreifels then both went back to Shepard and waited for help to arrive. Dolan also testified during McKinney’s trial that “I made the call (to 911). He (Shepard) was bloody. There was a large pool of blood in his right ear.”

"Patrol Officer Reggie Fluty described in her report that when she found Shepard's body, his hands were bound behind his back so tightly to a buck fence that it was difficult to cut him free. Her only duty at the time was not to gather evidence but to assist Shepard. Fluty tried to cut the ropes from Shepard’s hands and when she bent him over he stopped breathing so she turned him back over. “His hands were tied tight and I wanted to free him.” She also noticed that he wore braces on his teeth. And though his face was caked in blood, his face was clean where streaks of tears had washed the blood away. “The only white skin I saw (on his face) was where he had been crying.” A watch and Matthew’s school ID card was found near the crime scene. In her testimony in the Aaron McKinney trial Tuesday, October 26, 1999, Fluty testified that trying to comfort Shepard while waiting for the ambulance she told him “Baby boy, I’m so sorry this happened to you.” During Fluty’s testimony, Prosecutor Cal Rerucha showed the jury pictures of Shepard’s face and the blood stained ground below where Shepard had been left for 18 hours. Some jurors winced as they viewed graphic photos of Shepard’s injuries, including his bloodied face and ear."

   A great deal has happened in the past 15 years since his death.  You can serve opening in the military and be gay.  You can be legally marriage and be gay in a growing number of states.  Many states, including Maryland, now have hate crime laws that protects gays.  Unfortunately Wyoming, Matthew Shepard's home state, is one of only four states that don't include homosexuals in their hate crime laws.  Last week at the Values Voters Summit one speaker even tried to discount the brutal murder of Matt by calling it a "drug related" crime.  

    In Howard County we are fortunate to have laws against discrimination against gays and transgendered persons.  We also have a support and advocacy group addressing the issues facing gays and transgendered persons.  PFlag meets regularly in our county.

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