Suspect in Gay Attack Pleads Guilty
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) _ One of two men charged in the killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard pleaded guilty Monday to murder, admitting he tied the bleeding young man to a wooden fence and left him for dead on the prairie.
Russell Henderson, a 21-year-old high school dropout and roofer, avoided a trial and a possible death sentence with his plea.
He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms and will not be eligible for parole. His only hope for release is a pardon.
Judy Shepard cried at the courtroom podium while talking about her son, then turned to Henderson: ``I hope you never experience another day or night without experiencing the terror, humiliation, the hopelessness and helplessness that my son felt that night.″
Authorities said Henderson and Aaron McKinney, 21, posed as homosexuals and lured the 5-foot-2, 105-pound Shepard out of a bar last October, kidnapped and pistol-whipped him and left him tied to a fence in the cold. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student died five days later at a hospital.
The crime led to demands for stronger hate-crime laws around the country.
Although he pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping, Henderson said his friend and co-defendant delivered the fatal blows.
He matter-of-factly recounted the grisly beating and his attempts to cover up his role, then asked forgiveness from his and Shepard’s families.
``There is not a moment that goes by that I don’t see what happened that night,″ he said. ``I hope one day you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me.″
Henderson said he tried to stop the beating, but McKinney struck him with a gun when he spoke up. ``Matthew looked really bad, so I told (McKinney) to stop, he’s had enough,″ Henderson said.
Judge Jeffrey Donnell told Henderson he did not believe he was remorseful.
``The pain you have caused here, Mr. Henderson, will never go away. Never,″ Donnell said.
McKinney will be tried in August on first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges. He could be sentenced to death.
There had been speculation that if Henderson pleaded guilty, he would end up testifying against his friend and co-defendant, but officials would not confirm that will happen.
Prosecutor Cal Rerucha said he believed it was appropriate to offer a plea agreement to Henderson.
``It is my hope that Mr. Henderson will die in the Wyoming state penitentiary and the only time he leaves the Wyoming state pententiary is when they bury him,″ he said.
Defense attorney Wyatt Skaggs denied that Shepard was targeted because he was gay. ``This crime has never been a hate crime,″ he said.
Chasity Pasley, Henderson’s girlfriend, pleaded guilty in December to accessory after the fact, admitting she helped hide Henderson’s clothing, which was covered with Shepard’s blood.
McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, is scheduled to stand trial in May on an accessory charge.
Outside the courthouse Monday, a dozen young people dressed as angels, with white sheets for wings, tried to block from view an anti-gay group that was demonstrating.
The angels stood silently, but inside their human wall about a dozen anti-gay demonstrators from Kansas shouted slogans and waved signs, including one that said ``God Hates Fags.″
``These ... creatures are sending this nation to hell in a handbasket,″ said the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps and members of his church picketed Shepard’s funeral in Casper with anti-gay signs.