ABC’s 20/20: 1998 Murder of Matthew Shepard Not a “Hate Crime” After All

“by Debra Thomsen
Laramie Boomerang Staff Writer

Six years after the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was discovered bound to a fence east of Laramie, the network, with the prompting of Steve Jimenez, has interviewed the two men convicted of the crime along with law enforcement officers, the prosecuting attorney, friends of the accused and others connected to the victim or the accused.

Jimenez, a journalist from New York and the producer of this 20/20 segment, said from the beginning he did not believe the murder was committed because of Shepard’s sexual orientation. The focus of the 20/20 program are a robbery gone awry and drugs, two of the contributing factors in the murder, according to Jimenez.

Throughout the course of the one-hour program, friends of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two convicted in Shepard’s death, discuss drug use, money and the relationship between the victim and the accused.

This program also has the first on-camera interviews with both men.

Henderson pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. McKinney was found guilty of the crime and, at the recommendation of the prosecution, was sentenced to life without parole.

Both men are incarcerated in the same undisclosed facility, having been transferred from the Wyoming State Penitentiary to a prison in another state.

Interviews with Kristen Price, McKinney’s girlfriend at the time, presented information about his continued use of methamphetamines and other illegal substances. She answered questions about the night and early morning, (Oct. 6 and 7) that Shepard was brutally beaten and left on the outskirts of town.

“”Doc,”” a local limousine driver, said that on more than one occasion he had driven Shepard around town. He also drove the young man to a club in Fort Collins, Colo. He said that more than once, McKinney was in the limo with Shepard and others who were using drugs.

Cal Rerucha, the prosecuting attorney, said that he believed the murder was drug related. “”It was a horrible murder, driven by drugs.””

Rerucha said that more than 70 percent of all crimes committed in this state are drug related with meth being the most commonly used illegal substance.

Other interviews included Dave O’Malley, a detective with the Laramie Police Department at the time. He stated that, in his opinion, Shepard’s sexual orientation was the reason he was killed.

Throughout the program, McKinney and Henderson are asked questions directly related to information provided in other interviews.

McKinney does not deny killing Shepard but said that was not his intention. He does, however, admit that he wanted to rob Shepard.

McKinney said that as the three men – himself, Shepard and Henderson – traveled to the east part of town, Shepard placed his hand on McKinney’s leg. It was at this point, McKinney said, that he first struck Shepard.

McKinney said he was in a rage and there was no stopping him from that point on. He said he was “”coming off a meth binge.””

Henderson maintains that he did not strike Shepard. He said he drove the pickup to the isolated area. He took a rope from the vehicle and tied Shepard to the fence. Surprised and shocked is how Henderson described his reaction to McKinney’s rage. At one point, he said he tried to stop McKinney. He said McKinney used the pistol and struck him in the face, cutting his upper lip.

As the show progresses, the interviews begin to shape a story with Henderson and McKinney agreeing and disagreeing with various statements made by others.

Henderson said that even though he did not participate in the beating, he really did nothing to prevent it.

McKinney said, “”It is hard to see Russ, knowing that I put him here.””

The program [aired] on ABC [in November, 2004].

This story was published by the Laramie Boomerang on 11/24/2004.