Murder Victim. Shepard's death brought the issues of homophobia and gay bashing to the attention of the American public. Born in Casper, Wyoming, the oldest son of Dennis Shepard and Judy Peck Shepard. He attended Dean Morgan Junior High School and Natrona County High School, before spending his junior and senior year at the American High School in Switzerland, graduating in 1995. He was also a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. He later attended Catawba College, before moving on to the University of Wyoming, planning to major in political science. On October 7, 1998, twenty-one year old Matthew met Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson in a local Laramie bar. The two men offered to give him a ride back to the dorms, and Shepard was subsequently robbed, beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. It was later determined that McKinney and Henderson discovered his home address, intending to burgle his home. Shepard was discovered 18 hours later, alive but comatose from his injuries. He never regained consciousness, and was on full life support until he died on October 12, at the Poudre Valley hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. Police found evidence of Shepard in the truck belonging to the two murderers. During their trial, Henderson and McKinney claimed that they had panicked after Shepard had allegedly made sexual advances on them; they also claimed that they had only intended to rob him, and not to kill him. Henderson pleaded guilty on April 5, 1999, and agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole (one for kidnapping and one for murder). McKinney was found guilty and while the jury was deliberating on the death penalty, Shepard's parents brokered a deal that gave McKinney two consecutive life sentences, without benefit of parole. Shepard's parents stated "we are giving him life in the memory of one who no longer lives." The Shepard case prompted President Bill Clinton to renew an attempt to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian individuals, as well as women and people with disabilities; the efforts were rejected by the US House of Representatives. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was finally passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson