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The NYPost reports that ABC will be running a piece on 11/26 that contends Matthew Shepard’s killing is just a mugging gone wrong, and is tied to meth use by the perpetrators. ABC promises “surprising revelations, including Laramie’s underground world of methamphetamine use that may have contributed to the crime and whether or not Shepard knew his killers.”

This is outrageous. Remember, the defense team was the proponent of the “gay panic” defense and drug use came up at the trial as well, so if this is now Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson trying to rewrite history while in the slammer, it represents more abuse of the victim. Look they did it, and Matthew is dead and cannot speak for himself. Again.

Read this portion of Matthew Shepard’s dad’s closing statement at Aaron McKinney’s trial. It reminds us why this violent, sick slaughter cannot be forgotten, or who was really to blame. Thanks to poster at DKos dadanation for the pointer.

Matt officially died at 12:53 a.m. on Monday, October 12, 1998, in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He actually died on the outskirts of Laramie tied to a fence that Wednesday before, when you beat him. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, killed my son.

By the end of the beating, his body was just trying to survive. You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him–friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time–one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming. His last day alive in Wyoming.

His last day alive in the state that he always proudly called home. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind–the ever-present Wyoming wind–for the last time. He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday school and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God.

I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.

Matt became a symbol–some say a martyr, putting a boy-next-door face on hate crimes. That’s fine with me. Matt would be thrilled if his death would help others. On the other hand, your agreement to life without parole has taken yourself out of the spotlight and out of the public eye. It means no drawn-out appeals process, [no] chance of walking away free due to a technicality, and no chance of lighter sentence due to a “merciful” jury. Best of all, you won’t be a symbol. No years of publicity, no chance of communication, no nothing–just a miserable future and a more miserable end. It works for me.

My son was taught to look at all sides of an issue before making a decision or taking a stand. He learned this early when he helped campaign for various political candidates while in grade school and junior high. When he did take a stand, it was based on his best judgment. Such a stand cost him his life when he quietly let it be known that he was gay. He didn’t advertise it, but he didn’t back away from the issue either. For that I’ll always be proud of him. He showed me that he was a lot more courageous than most people, including myself. Matt knew that there were dangers to being gay, but he accepted that and wanted to just get on with his life and his ambition of helping others.

Matt’s beating, hospitalization, and funeral focused worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil. People have said “Enough is enough.” You screwed up, Mr. McKinney. You made the world realize that a person’s lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution, and violence. This is not the 1920s, 30s, and 40s of Nazi Germany.

My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance. I can’t bring him back. But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again. As I mentioned earlier, my son has become a symbol–a symbol against hate and people like you; a symbol for encouraging respect for individuality; for appreciating that someone is different; for tolerance. I miss my son, but I’m proud to be able to say that he is my son.

There is a DKos diary on this as well.

UPDATE: Unfortunately it looks like Sully is joining in the dragging (and is part of the segment according to DKos posters) …

“I never joined in the sanctification of Matthew Shepard. What happened to him was appalling, evil, horrifying. But what gay rights groups made of it was, in my view, exploitative and crude. I gave up counting the number of direct mail requests for money I received using Matthew Shepard’s name. I wrote about my misgivings here. My opposition to hate crime laws is laid out here. Harper’s Magazine has already sketched the role that crystal meth may have played in the scenario that led to Shepard’s murder. Now ABC News has prepared an important, thorough and debunking review of what happened. I was tangentially involved in the documentary, but wasn’t privy to its most closely held findings. I have a feeling it will reveal how dangerous it is to rest an entire political argument on one incident, whose details were always murky and subsequently turned into myth.”



Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, Matthew Shepard’s killers.

OK. My comments here are being made without having seen one second of the 20/20 segment. There, got the obvious out of the way. That said, I’m willing to watch and see what information comes forward, but nothing that anyone says can explain away the gay panic defense, which purported that Aaron McKinney was so intimidated by the thought he might get hit on by a gay man that he flew into a blind rage and couldn’t help himself when he drove Matthew out to the fence, beat the crap out of him and left him to die. The defense had ample opportunity to present it as a simple mugging, a Dan White Twinkie defense, temporary insanity, whatever. That wasn’t the tactic they chose.

UPDATE 2: The “gay panic” defense in this case, courtesy of Salon in 1999. You read, you decide.

Several observers had predicted the defense team might resort to a “gay panic” defense later in the trial, if it could not convince the jury that drugs and alcohol diminished McKinney’s ability to understand the severity of the crimes he committed. But no one in the stunned courtroom seemed prepared for the risky defense outlined in Tangeman’s opening statement. Nor were they prepared for the follow-up development: Tangeman argued that McKinney erupted “savagely” not because he was some sort of country hick who’d never crossed paths with a gay guy, but because of his own homosexual experiences.

At the age of 7, McKinney was forced to suck another boy’s penis, Tangeman announced. “Aaron will tell you this humiliated him. He did carry it with him.” At 15, McKinney willingly engaged in a homosexual act one time with a cousin, according to the lawyer. And not long before the murder, he inadvertently entered a gay church with his girlfriend and fled sobbing from the sight of men kissing.

Reaction from the gay community was swift and severe. Jeffrey Montgomery, spokesman for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, staggered out of the courtroom, collapsed in a chair and gasped, “I’m almost speechless. I never thought they’d be so blatant.” He said he’d observed more than a dozen “gay panic” defenses, including the “Jenny Jones” trial — a highly publicized murder case using the controversial defense strategy, which suggests that a defendant is thrown into a panic by a sexual advance from a person of the same gender — but had never seen any so extreme. “Everyone thought it was going to be subtle,” he said. “He’s put [Shepard] on trial. It’s a scoundrel’s defense, it’s a bankrupt defense, but it’s all they have left.”

Tangeman also outlined a defense based on the fact that McKinney was under the influence of methamphetamines and alcohol; the jury could return a lesser verdict of second-degree murder or manslaughter if they found that he was too intoxicated to clearly understand his actions. Certainly McKinney was fueled by those chemicals, his lawyer argued, but the attack was unleashed by a sexual advance from Shepard that recalled a “haunted” and “sexually confusing” past and threw him into a blind rage.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding