According to court testimony, in the months leading up to October of 1998, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney lived with a friend named Tom O’Connor. Tom intimated to McKinney’s girlfriend that he’d had sex occasionally with her boyfriend, and thought he was bisexual. Despite O’Connor’s later sworn statements in court to the contrary, McKinney denied having sex with him. After months of suffering taunts and denials, McKinney became anxious to prove his macho manhood and decided that a good old-fashioned “fag bashing” might just fill the bill.
The trouble was that O’Connor was too good of a mutual friend to be the intended target of his wrath.
McKinney and his attorney would later try to assert that his eventual victim had blatantly approached the two much bigger men for sex and that his client merely overreacted. They didn’t count on both McKinney and Henderson’s girlfriends later refusing to provide them with alibis, and then turning against them in court. According to subsequent testimony by both women (Chastity Paisley and Kristen Price), the two men planned in advance to “play queer,” gain the trust of some homosexual, and then rob and beat him up. Their story was later confirmed when Henderson turned state’s evidence in order to avoid the death penalty.
On the night of October 6, 1998, McKinney and Henderson entered the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming, and picked a slightly built college student named Matthew Shepard as a likely candidate. After a few casual drinks and some flirting to gain his trust, they offered Shepard a ride home, which he accepted. Instead, before he realized what was happening, they drove him far out of town into ranch country, pulled a pistol on him, and then robbed him of his shoes, keys, and valuables.
Not satisfied with that humiliation, McKinney then used a rope to tie him to a ranch fence. The two friends proceeded to torture, taunt, and severely beat him, being careful not to kill their prey in order to prolong his ordeal. When they later returned to their girlfriends, they bragged of repeatedly forcing Shepard to beg for his life, and intimated how they planned to rob their victim’s apartment now that they knew where he lived.
When they were subsequently arrested, the bloody gun, along with Shepard’s wallet and shoes, was found still in McKinney’s truck. The off-handed discarding of his wallet proved that robbery was not the main motive for the attack.
Late in the afternoon of the day after the beating a man discovered the 21-year-old college student still tied to the fence, barely alive, but in a coma. He was so badly beaten that he was at first mistaken for a scarecrow with a red painted face. He later said the only part of Shepard's head not covered with blood was where tears had apparently washed tracks down his cheeks.
His skull was fractured from the back of his head to his right ear. He was so badly beaten that he suffered brain stem damage, which meant his brain could no longer regulate his body temperature and heart rate.
As the night’s temperature fell to near freezing, Matthew probably slowly suffered the cold in agony until mercifully lapsing into a coma. Because of the blood loss from dozens of deep cuts to his scalp and face, the doctors at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins determined there was nothing they could do to save him. Though he remained on life support, he never woke from his coma and died days later on October 12, 1998. His story inspired candlelight vigils all over the world and made national headlines.
Fast-forward ahead in time to 2009.
Inspired by Shepard’s story and many like it over the years, hate crime legislation bearing his name has been introduced in the U.S. Congress.
Republican Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina argued that Shepard was killed accidentally as part of a robbery, not because he was gay: "The bill was named for him, the hate-crimes bill was named for him, but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."
In a later attempt to clarify her statement by blaming it on faulty information from right wing websites, she tried to appeal to outraged colleagues by stating, “Referencing these media accounts may have been a mistake, but if so, it was a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts.” She went on to try to back-pedal by saying, “Mr. Shepard's death was nothing less than a tragedy, and those responsible for his death certainly deserved the punishment they received.”
In my opinion Rep. Foxx deserves to be removed from office.
It is incomprehensible that an elected official could stand on the hallowed floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and verbally spew what are essentially prejudiced and ignorant statements based on slanted and inaccurate accounts.
It goes to prove the assertion that just because you agree with something doesn’t make it fact. In this case, thankfully, it came back to bite her on the ass, and she deserves nothing less than the same treatment from her constituents; who, I’d dare say, are more than a little embarrassed that she seems to have clumsily confirmed a few unfounded and unwanted southern stereotypes.