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Shepard Murder Suspect To Be Tried

November 20, 1998

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) _ A suspect in the death of a gay University of Wyoming admitted to an investigator that he drove off with the victim and then told him: ``Guess what. We’re not gay. You’re gonna get jacked.″

After hearing testimony at a preliminary hearing Thursday, a judge ordered Aaron McKinney to stand trial in the death of Matthew Shepard, an attack that brought widespread outrage, a condemnation from President Clinton and calls for tougher hate-crime laws.

The other suspect, Russell Arthur Henderson, had waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 2. Both men are charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery.

The 21-year-old Shepard, who had been found tied to a fence outside of town, died five days after the Oct. 7 beating.

The lead investigator, Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Rob DeBree, testified that McKinney, 21, admitted to the beating and implicated his friend Henderson, also 21. According to DeBree, McKinney said that robbery was the main motive but that Shepard was chosen as a target because he was gay.

DeBree said McKinney ``admitted Matthew did not hit on them or make advances″ in the Fireside Bar, but that they lured him out intending to rob him and burglarize his house.

According to DeBree, McKinney told investigators that the attack began after Shepard placed his right hand on McKinney’s leg as the trio drove on Laramie’s east side.

```Guess what. We’re not gay,‴ DeBree quoted McKinney as saying. ```You’re gonna get jacked. It’s Gay Awareness Week.‴

DeBree said McKinney admitted he hit Shepard two to three times with his fist, then pistol-whipped and robbed him.

The beating allegedly continued when they reached a sagebrush-strewn area at the foot of the Laramie Range where the dying Shepard was found 18 hours later.

DeBree said that McKinney was asked if Shepard begged for his life and the defendant replied: ``Well, yeah _ he was getting the (expletive) beat out of him.″

The autopsy showed that the 5-foot-2-inch Shepard was struck in the head about 18 times, prosecutor Cal Rerucha said.

Officers testified that Shepard’s face was caked with blood _ except where it had been partially washed clean by tears. They said his wrists were bound so tightly, it was difficult to cut the rope.

Explaining the violence, McKinney told his girlfriend, Kristin Price, ```Well, you know how I feel about gays,‴ Police Detective Ben Fritzen testified. And DeBree said McKinney repeatedly referred to Shepard as ``queer″ and ``faggot.″

McKinney sat expressionless for most of the five-hour hearing, smiling once or twice when he spoke with his attorneys.

Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, sat in the front row, his mother crying when a deputy identified photographs of her son in the hospital.

Public defender Dion Custis said the state failed to meet its burden of proof that the murder was planned and said Shepard was not kidnapped, but went willingly. A watch, money and other property left at the crime scene showed that robbery was not a factor either, he said.

Ms. Price, 18, and Henderson’s girlfriend, Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, will be arraigned Dec. 9 on accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

Henderson and McKinney are being held without bond. Rerucha has not yet indicated if he will seek the death penalty.

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