September 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Matthew Shepard book creates uproar
Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, gay news, Washington Blade

A new book claims Matthew Shepard sold crystal meth and worked as an escort. His family said it won’t respond to ‘conspiracy theories.’

A newly published book that claims gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard had a sexual relationship with his killer and his 1998 murder wasn’t a hate crime has triggered expressions of outrage by LGBT activists and fueled efforts by anti-gay groups to downplay the need for hate crimes laws.

“The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” written by gay journalist Stephen Jimenez and officially released on Tuesday, comes on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyo.

It also comes at a time when the “Laramie Project,” the internationally acclaimed play about the Shepard murder and its portrayal of the slaying as a hate crime, is about to open at the Ford’s Theater in Washington with a newly produced epilogue.

In addition, a documentary film called “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine,” directed by a filmmaker who was one of Shepard’s high school friends, is scheduled to premiere at the Washington National Cathedral on Oct. 4.

With the play and film exploring the Shepard murder as a hate crime that adversely impacted an entire community beyond the scope of an individual victim, the startling assertions made in Jimenez’s book have prompted at least one prominent gay commentator to reassess longstanding assumptions about the Shepard case.

“Events are more complicated than most politicians and activists want them to be,” said gay conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan. “No one should be afraid of the truth.”

Among the book’s claims is that Shepard, 21, knew and socialized with Aaron McKinney, also 21, one of two men convicted of his murder, at least a year before the crime. According to Jimenez’s stated findings in the book, Shepard and McKinney each used and sold crystal meth, both had been involved with an escort service in Denver and Laramie that arranged for them to have sex for money with men, they were seen at the same parties in Laramie, and the two occasionally had sex with each other.

Jimenez told the Blade he devoted more than 13 years of research and investigative reporting in preparation for his book, interviewing more than 100 people on the record, including a dozen people he identifies as friends of Shepard and more than a dozen friends of McKinney.

But some of the national LGBT advocacy groups have joined the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created by Shepard’s parents to combat anti-LGBT violence, in challenging the accuracy of the book and the credibility of its sources.

“Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law,” a statement released by the Shepard Foundation says.

“We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories,” the statement says. “Instead we remain committed to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it.”

Albany County, Wyo., Sheriff David O’Malley, who served as Laramie police commander at the time of the murder, told the Blade on Tuesday that he believes the book “is full of lies” and described it as “conspiracy theory BS.”

Jimenez said he and others working with him have thoroughly and meticulously scrutinized and vetted the findings of his investigation, which he says included a careful reading of virtually all of the police and court records related to the case that initially had been sealed by a judge.

Laramie officials have said the records became available to the public in late 1999 shortly after the conclusion of the trial of McKinney, who was convicted of bludgeoning Shepard to death by repeatedly striking him in the head with the barrel of a .357 Magnum pistol while Shepard was tied to a fence at an isolated prairie just outside of town.

Co-defendant Russell Henderson confessed to having tied Shepard to the fence while accompanying McKinney on what he said began as a plan by McKinney to lure Shepard from a Laramie bar to rob him. Unlike McKinney, Henderson pleaded guilty to a murder charge rather than face a trial. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I think the discovery of who Matthew Shepard was as a person and the complexity of who he was as a human being is really important,” Jimenez told the Blade.

“And so my reason for writing the book is to really say let’s understand what was really going on here,” he said. “If we’re serious about dealing with hate and violence in the culture, let’s understand what really happened here. What are the forces that came into play that created this grotesquely violent murder?”

Added Jimenez: “And certainly as I know now, the official story that these were two strangers that walked into a bar and targeted Matthew because he looked well-dressed and looked like he had money and appeared to be gay or that Matthew came on to them in the bar or that they lured him out of the bar because he was gay – those are simply not true.”

Jimenez was referring to the findings in the official police report that was based in part on a confession by McKinney to police at the time of his arrest three days after the murder. In his confession, McKinney said he and Henderson planned to rob Shepard, not to kill him. He said he lost control of his emotions and actions after Shepard allegedly groped him in the pickup truck that Henderson was driving after Shepard accepted McKinney’s invitation to drive him home from the Fireside bar on the night of Oct. 6, 1998.

McKinney’s lawyers, who attempted to invoke the so-called “gay panic” defense at McKinney’s trial, told the jury in his November 1999 closing argument that McKinney’s judgment was clouded that night by his consumption of alcohol and his use of and addiction to crystal meth amphetamine.

“Aaron McKinney is not a cold-blooded killer,” defense attorney Dion Custis said. “What happened is he hit him too many times” after the crystal meth consumption and Shepard’s alleged groping caused him to fly into an “uncontrollable rage.”

LGBT advocacy groups, noting that perpetrators of anti-gay hate crimes often use the gay panic defense as an alibi, said at the time that McKinney’s use of the gay panic defense confirmed their belief that McKinney’s motive was anti-gay hatred.

O’Malley said the police investigation found that McKinney had not been using crystal meth for several days and that investigators concluded that the murder “had nothing to do with drugs.” He said that the incident started as a robbery but investigators believe the brutality of the beating, in which McKinney crushed Shepard’s skull, involved a form of “overkill” that indicated the true motive was anti-gay animus.

Jimenez argues in his book that McKinney was suffering from the effects of his crystal meth use at the time of the attack but that some of his animus toward Shepard was based on alleged conflicts over a drug deal at a time when the two were working for rival drug suppliers. He bases this theory on information from both named and anonymous sources.

“It boggles the mind that this book flies in the face of all of the evidence related to the drug use,” said Cathy Renna, a former official with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), who attended the McKinney trial.

“Aaron McKinney has changed his story so many times it’s not even worth trying to keep count,” said Renna in referring to subsequent statements that McKinney has made to reporters in interviews from jail.

“But the one thing that Aaron McKinney has been clear about and has remained consistent to is that he didn’t know Matt beforehand.”

Renna and others questioning the reliability of Jimenez’s sources have cited a memo that ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas mistakenly left at O’Malley’s residence in 2004, when she interviewed O’Malley, as confirmation that Jimenez reached his conclusions about the Shepard case before he began research for a controversial report on the ABC program 20/20. The memo, according to critics who have seen it, outlined the view the Shepard murder was not a hate crime along with some of the other revelations recounted in the Jimenez book.

Jimenez, however, told the Blade that the criticism is unfounded because his memo was based on more than two years of research that he already had conducted on the case long before he became involved in the 20/20 project.

He also disputes claims by critics that the 20/20 broadcast on the Shepard case in 2004 was based on unreliable sources.

“When I did the ABC News story every single note, every single interview transcript, everything we did was vetted by the top vice presidents and lawyers at ABC,” Jimenez said.

Concerning his book, Jimenez notes that the lead prosecutor in the Shepard murder case, Cal Rerucha, has stated on the record in his book that he agrees that the preponderance of evidence shows that drugs rather than anti-gay hate was the motive behind the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Regardless of whether the claims in Jimenez’s book are correct or not, some LGBT activists question the purpose of such a book, which they note has already been cited by right-wing anti-gay organizations to question the validity of hate crime legislation.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • So the gay political class promulgated a lie, again, because they thought it would have a good result. Like pretending Obama or Hillary ever campaigned on a gay issue when it mattered, when they never have, totally absent from North Carolina as it outlawed gay marriage.

    You should stop giving any money or listening to any establishment gay groups. Like other establishment politicians, they only lie. And then they make the gay community look like liars.

  • peter rosenstein

    Fifteen years later nothing will change the fact that Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die-murdered. No purpose will be served to debate whether the killer was on meth or whether Matt had sex with him. Hate crimes can even occur when two people have had sex and one is so freaked out by what he did that he gets violent. Jimenez wrote a salacious book for no apparent reason other than to make money. I haven’t read it and won’t. We need to thank Matthew’s parents who dedicated years to making the lives of GLBT people safer. Matthew is no longer here so everything in this book will never be proven anyway. Some things don’t need to be written and this book is clearly one of them.

    • Roy

      Madam, do you mind if others hear an alternative possibility? Or do we have to swallow the secular sainthood of Matthew unquestioned?

  • David

    I am disappointed in the Blade. You report that the book has caused an uproar, but you fail to delve into the underlying claims to help your readers determine if they are valid. As a newspaper, it is your responsibility to report as to whether the Jimenez book is backed up by evidence. That is really the key issue. Not whether the book has caused an “uproar” but rather what specific documents, records, physical evidence and testimony is Jimenez relying upon to reach his conclusions in his book?

    One claim in the book is that Shepard and McKinney had a relationship prior to the night of the murder. Were they seen together in restaurants or in bars or in other public places, and if so, by whom and when? Are there telephone or email records showing that they spoke on the phone? Did the police and the prosecutors reach the conclusion that there was a pre-existing relationship? Are there unbiased witnesses to specific meetings between the two? If the Blade won’t ask these questions and extract this information from Jimenez, there is no way to assess the book.

    If the claims in the book are true, then it is good that it was published. We should never alter facts and history to suit our ideological preferences. If the claims are false, then Jimenez has done an odious thing, and should be ashamed. The only way to determine whether the claims are true or not is to consider the specific evidence he cites, and the Blade has failed to focus its attention on that central issue.

  • JC

    So, the liberal (Jewish) media laid an enormous guilt trip on straight White males because one bugger boy murdered another.

    Then again, the Jewish media is still pushing the Holocaust and they’re trying to make us feel guilty for so-called “White privilege” even though White people have been second in line for jobs due to racial quotas for over 40 years.

    Maybe the real problem isn’t with White people; it’s with prolific Jewish liars.

  • Nathan

    The Matthew Shepard murder is a good example of how media can be manipulated and the public can believe certain untruths (such as him being tied up like Christ on a fence.) It was well known Matt was a troubled young man but was made over into a saint and untouchable by some elements of the gay community so desperate for a new posterboy.

    • The constant lies and calls for government intervention from the gay political class has been such a PR disaster it has slowed down the progress on gay rights by turning off voters.

  • abner

    If the legal system had punished Harvey B. Milk for committing homosexual abuse on a 16 year old boy in 1964 (which he was not prosecuted for) & if the Wyoming legal system had given Methew Wayne Shepard years in prison rather than counseling by Natrona County Juvenile Court for molesting 8 year old boys when he was 15 years old, then Harvey B. Milk & Methew Wayne Shepard both would have avoided being murdered in 1978 & 1998. It’d been better if this had happened-Harvey B. Milk convicted of homosexual statutory rape in 1960s, does prison time & then spends rest of his days in a homeless shelter or his family taking care of him after he’s released from prison. Harvey Bernard Milk was a despicable homosexual coward who in 1964 committed statutory rape on a teenage boy (the boy committed suicide in 1980) but H.B. Milk was never prosecuted for it. Harvey Bernard Milk should’ve been convicted & jailed for felony statutory rape in 1964 & lost his right to vote. Harvey B. Milk being dead since 11/27/1978 won’t be able to homosexually statutorily rape any more teen boys. Getting murdered in 1978 & 1998 does not change the truth that both Harvey B. Milk & Methew Wayne Shepard were gay pedophiles.

    Alyssa B. Rosenberg was offended by the fact Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned near end of book that Methew W. Shepard was arrested when he was 15 for molesting 8 year old boys. The 2 boys who Methew W. Shepard molested is verified by Natrona County Juvenile Court records, the Cody Woming bartender who was victimized by Methew W. Shepard in August 1998 and which is backed by Cody Wyoming police reports and this happened before the October 1998 murder. Judy L. Shepard sees nothing wrong with her son molesting 8 year old boys. Alyssa B. Rosenberg sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children. Yes, I think Methew W. Shepard molesting 8 year old boys is a more serious crime than most murders and debate whether getting beaten to death as he did is more or less serious than his crimes of child molestation. Methew W. Shepard being a child molester is proven. That he molested 8 year old boys in his neighborhood and we don’t know the damage that it did to them. Incidentally, it’s possible that Methew W. Shepard had molested more boys other than the 2 reported to cops.Since Methew W. Shepard was killed, no matter why he was murdered, he won’t be able to molest anymore children.

    No, I don’t think Methew W. Shepard should have been killed but Methew W. Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling for this when he was 15 years old-that is verified information and Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned this near end of book-he interviewed a Casper Wyoming cop and a relative of 1 of victims. The 2 boys who Methew W. Shepard molested is verified by Natrona County Juvenile Court records, the Cody Woming bartender who was victimized by Methew W. Shepard in August 1998 and which is backed by Cody Wyoming police reports. Judy L. Shepard and the Shepard Foundation omits this ugly truth of Methew W. Shepard being a child molester and it would not surprise me if ex Casper Star Tribune journalists Tiffany C. Hunt, Kerry A. Drake and JC Marsden know this but left this out in that I find it hard to believe these 3 Casper Wyoming journalists did not know about Methew W. Shepard molesting 8 year old boys when he was 15 years old because Stephen Jimenez found this in court records and again, Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned this near end of book as most of the book was about the 3 people, A.J. McKinney’s problems, Methew W. Shepard’s life and problems and of course the drug problems. Incidentally, it’s possible that Methew W. Shepard had molested more boys other than the 2 case reported to cops. Both JC Marsden & Big Island Chronicle Tiffany Camille Hunt sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children so their view is rubbish.

    Let’s look @ what we do know about Methew W. Shepard. No matter why the murder happened, the idea that A.J. McKinney and Methew W. Shepard were strangers who did not know eachother until that day is rubbish. There are many witnesses-Doc O’ Connor’s ex girlfriend, Elaine Baker (bartender), M.K. Rohrbacher (drug dealer), Tristan (Ted) Henson (Methew W. Shepard’s former lover) & others who saw them together.

    Of course the witnesses can only say they saw them together and can not know it all. It’s not believed Methew W. Shepard knew the 2nd man (R.A. Henderson) and I agree with Stephen Jimenez that Russell A. Henderson should have been convicted of a lesser crime such as Manslaughter and that he should have gotten a jury trial but got bad representation by his lawyers who urged him to take a plea when he wanted a jury trial. Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez Stephen Jimenez’s evidence are 1st party witnesses he interviewed-over 100 of them over 13 years.

    Methew W. Shepard associating with drug dealers in both Wyoming and Colorado is not disputable. Methew W. Shepard went into bars where drugs were sold and he did associate with drug dealers-he went to bars named Tornado, Ranger, Library & other bars in Wyoming and Colorado where drugs were sold. Methew W. Shepard’s friend Tina LaBrie expressing concerns about Methew W. Shepard’s drug and $ problems. We know that Methew W. Shepard was having $ problems (spending so much on limosuine rides in Doc O’ Connor’s limousine).

    Methew W. Shepard’s a junky (proven fact), drunkard and had money problems. Sheriff O’Malley has said that if Methew W. Shepard sold drugs, the cops would have known which is dishonest-Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. R.J. DeBree know cops don’t always catch all the criminals and that many drug dealers escape detection. Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. Robert J. DeBree have arrested drug dealers and they know how it’s the family and friends who get surprised after they learn some1 they know is a drug dealer.

    Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. Robert J. DeBree know that it’s unlikely MW. Shepard told his friends and family that he was a drug dealer, and even if Methew W. Shepard did tell his friends and family that he sold drugs, don’t think his family will admit this ugly as they had tried to hide the fact that Methew Wayne Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling.

    Now was Methew W. Shepard’s assocation with drug dealers and going into bars where drugs were sold more than buying drugs ? Was Methew W. Shepard a drug dealer or a drug courier? Stephen Jimenez thinks so and he believes it was the Denver circle. No, Stephen Jimenez does not know it all but his conclusions are sincere and honest. While homosexual groups complain about Stephen Jimenez saying the murder case is complicated and possibly not a hate crime, that is incidental-main reason homosexual groups are offended by Stephen Jimenez’s book is because he talked about the ugly truths about who M.W. Shepard was. You don’t always know the secrets friends and family have. If a person is a drug dealer, then they are usually not going to tell their friends and family that they do this.

    Even if Metthew W. Shepard did tell his friends and family that he sold drugs, don’t think his family will admit this ugly truth about him, as they hide the fact that Methew Wayne Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling for it. Laramie Project, Shepard Foundation & Big Island Chronicle Tiffany Camille Hunt sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children so their view is rubbish.

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