Case Won’t Focus on Shepard’s Life
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) _ Gay college student Matthew Shepard was pummeled to death by Aaron McKinney in a drunken, drug-induced rage after Shepard made a pass at him, McKinney’s attorney said Monday as his trial began.
``Did Matthew Shepard deserve to die? No, that’s ridiculous. No manslaughter victim deserved to die,″ Jason Tangeman said in opening statements. ``That’s what Aaron McKinney is guilty of, manslaughter.″
The roofer’s judgment that night was affected by alcohol, methamphetamines and ``some sexually traumatic and confusing events in his life,″ Tangeman told jurors.
The trial of the other man accused of the slaying that shocked the nation, Russell Henderson, ended in April just before a jury was seated. Henderson pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison. The plea allowed Henderson to avoid the death penalty.
Prosecutor Cal Rerucha said his case against McKinney will not deal with Shepard’s gay lifestyle.
``It will simply be about the pain, suffering and death of Matthew Shepard at the hands of the defendant, Aaron James McKinney,″ he said.
Prosecutors then called their first three witnesses: Aaron Kreifels, the college student who found Shepard; Charles Dolan, the neighbor who tried to help and a female Albany County deputy, Reggie Fluty, who told the barely breathing victim, ``Baby, I’m so sorry this happened.″
Kreifels and Dolan described efforts to free Shepard from the pine log fence, his hands tied to the bottom of a post. Fluty said it appeared Shepard had been crying. Shepard was taken to a hospital where he died five days later.
Shepard’s mother, Judy, dabbed her eyes when prosecutors showed jurors graphic photos of the young man’s badly beaten face, and McKinney’s father William, bowed his head. McKinney barely glanced up.
Shepard, McKinney and Henderson met in a Laramie bar about a year ago, where Shepard asked McKinney for a ride home, humiliating him in front of friends because McKinney believed Shepard was gay, Tangeman contended.
Tangeman said McKinney, 22, was confused by three homosexual encounters that occurred when he was 7, 15 and 20. In one case, McKinney was forced into an oral sex act with a neighborhood bully, Tangeman said.
Rerucha said McKinney and Henderson drove Shepard, 21, to a remote area, where they robbed him of $20, lashed him to the fence and began pistol-whipping him.
Opening statements were made after a jury of 10 men and six women, including four alternates, was seated in McKinney’s trial on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery.
He could be sentenced to die if convicted.
The jury includes three students at the University of Wyoming, where Shepard was a freshman studying human rights.