Shortly after midnight on October 6, 1998, Mr. Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson for the first time in Laramie, Wyoming. Matthew thought that McKinney and Henderson were going to give him a ride home, but instead they drove to a remote rural area and proceeded to rob, pistol-whip, and torture Shepard, tying him to a fence and leaving him to die.
According to their court testimony, McKinney and Henderson discovered Matthew's address and intended to steal from his home. Still tied to the fence, Mr. Shepard, who was still alive but in a coma, was discovered 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels, a cyclist who initially mistook Shepard for a scarecrow.
Below are selected portions, said by Dennis Shepard (Matthew's Father) at the court trial related to the brutal murder of his son.
November 4, 1999
November 4, 1999
Ladies and gentlemen,a terrible crime was committed in Laramie thirteen months ago. Because of that crime, the reputation of the city of Laramie, theUniversity of Wyoming, and the State of Wyoming became synonymous with gay bashing, hate crimes, and brutality. Yesterday you, the jury, showed the world that Wyoming and the city of Laramie will not tolerate hate crimes.
Yes, this was a hate crime, pure and simple, with the added ingredient of robbery. My son Matthew paid a terrible price to open the eyes of all of us who live in Wyoming, the United States, and the world to the unjust and unnecessary fears, discrimination, and intolerance that members of the gay community face every day.
Yesterday’s decision by you showed true courage and made a statement. That statement is that Wyoming is the Equality State; that Wyoming will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation; that violence is not the solution. Ladies and gentlemen, you have the respect and admiration of Matthew’s family and friends and of countless strangers around the world. Be proud of what you have accomplished. You may have prevented another family from losing a son or daughter. Your honor, I would also like to thank you for the dignity and grace with which this trial was conducted. Repeated attempts to distract the court from the true purpose of this trial failed because of your attentiveness, knowledge, and willingness to take a stand and make new law in the area of sexual orientation and the “Gay Panic” defense. By doing so you have emphasized that Matthew was a human being with all the rights and responsibilities and protections of any citizen of Wyoming.
My son Matthew did not look like a winner. After all, he was small for his age—weighing, at the most, 110 pounds, and standing only 5’2” tall. He was rather uncoordinated and wore braces from the age of 13 until the day he died. However, in his all too brief life, he proved that he was a winner. My son—a gentle, caring soul—proved that he was as tough as, if not tougher than, anyone I have ever heard of or known. On October 6, 1998, my son tried to show the world that he could win again. On October 12, 1998, my first-born son—and my hero—lost. On October 12, my first-born son—and my hero— died 50 days before his 22nd birthday. He died quietly, surrounded by family and friends, with his mother and brother holding his hand. All that I have left now are the memories.
I loved my son and, as can be seen throughout this statement, was proud of him. He was not my gay son. He was my son who happened to be gay. He was a good-looking, intelligent, caring person. There were the usual arguments, and at times he was a real pain in the butt. I felt the regrets of a father when he realizes that his son is not a star athlete. But it was replaced with a greater pride when I saw him on the stage. The hours that he spent learning his parts, working behind the scenes, and helping others made me realize that he was actually an excellent athlete—in a more dynamic way—because of the different types of physical and mental conditioning required by actors. To this day I have never figured out how he was able to spend all those hours at the theater, during the school year, and still have good grades.