Suspect to stand trial for death of gay student He is one of two men accused of fatally beating Wyo. college freshman

November 21, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Before savagely beating Matthew Shepard with a pistol butt, TC one of his tormentors taunted him, saying, "It's Gay Awareness Week," a police investigator has testified at a hearing in Laramie, Wyo., for one of two men accused of the murder of the gay college student.

The testimony, by Sgt. Rob Debree, came at a daylong proceeding Thursday. In the evening, Robert Denhardt, a visiting county judge, ordered Aaron McKinney, 22, to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping.

The other suspect, Russell Henderson, 21, a friend of McKinney, has waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is to be arraigned on the same charges on Dec. 2.

Throughout the hearing, Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of the slain student, sat stoically in Albany County Court as police witnesses provided new details about a crime that produced a national wave of anger at anti-gay violence.

Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old freshman at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, was fatally attacked a few hours after he had attended a planning meeting for Gay Awareness Week events on campus.

Debree, the lead investigator for the Albany County Sheriff's Department, testified that he conducted a tape-recorded interview with McKinney on Oct. 9, two days after the beating and three days before Shepard died in a hospital in nearby Fort Collins, Colo. In that interview, Debree recalled, McKinney said he and Henderson had identified Shepard as a robbery target and had lured him out of a Laramie bar and into their truck by pretending to be gay.

By McKinney's account, the detective said, the attack began after Shepard had placed his hand on McKinney's leg as they drove through Laramie. "Guess what, we're not gay," the detective quoted McKinney as saying he had told Shepard. "You're going to get jacked. It's Gay Awareness Week."

The detective said McKinney had admitted hitting Shepard three times with fists and six times with a stolen revolver.

An autopsy found that Shepard had been hit 18 times in the head. He was also bruised on the backs of his hands, indicating that he had tried to protect himself, and around the groin, indicating that he had been kicked repeatedly.

About 18 hours after the beating, a bicyclist found him still alive, tied to a ranch fence. Reggie Fluty, an Albany County sheriff's deputy, testified that Shepard's wrists had been so tightly bound that it had been difficult to cut the rope and that his head had been covered in blood except for a clean spot "where he'd been crying and the tears went down his face."

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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