Previously characterized as a hate crime, Matthew Shepard?s murder is now being viewed under a new light.In an interview on Nov. 26 with “20/20”?s Elizabeth Vargas, convicted murderers Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson talked about that fateful October night in 1998 when the pair murdered the 21-year-old gay college student. Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in bitter cold temperatures.
For the very first time, McKinney and Henderson revealed what they claim to be their true motive that night, and it wasn?t hatred for gays, according to them.
“All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him,” McKinney told Vargas.
Henderson and McKinney had originally set out that night to rob a drug dealer of $10,000 worth of methamphetamine, a drug that McKinney, at the time, was just coming off a one-week bingefrom. Henderson had tried to get McKinney so drunk that he?d forgettwn about the plan, but Henderson failed to do so. When the plan fell through, McKinney saw another window of opportunity in Shepard, who had asked McKinney for a ride home.
While in McKinney?s pick-up truck, Shepard allegedly reached for McKinney?s leg; McKinney then proceeded to pistol-whip Shepard and demanded money. Even though Shepard handed over his wallet, McKinney continued to beat him.
This behavior, says Dr. Rick Rawson of UCLA, is a clear indication that the motive was robbery, not hatred for gays.
“In the first weeks after you?ve stopped using [methamphetamine], the kinds of triggers that can set off an episode are completely unpredictable,” Rawson said.
“If Aaron McKinney had not become involved with methamphetamine, Matthew Shepard would be alive today,” said Cal Rerucha, a prosecutor in McKinney?s case.
The main revelation that struck me as detrimental to the legacy that Shepard?s mother is trying to uphold is the fact that Shepard is said by many to have known his killers because he, too, was involved in the drug scene.
McKinney denies ever having met or used meth with Shepard; however, several of McKinney?s close friends claim that they saw the pair together on more than one occasion.
Judy Shepard isn?t buying into these new theories, because the only thing she sees on a constant basis is the vision of her son dead.
“There were a lot of things going on that night, and hate was one of them, and they murdered my son ultimately,” she said. “Anything else we find out just doesn?t…change that fact.”
Although the “20/20” program interested thousands of viewers, it seemed to give Shepard?s killers a voice they most certainly do not deserve.
The motive of a crime still does not make the actual crime any more understandable or less brutal. The fact still remains that Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die. Henderson still could have called 9-1-1 to alert police of Shepard?s whereabouts; instead, he chose to leave hepard tied up for over 18 hours before authorities found the young man.
Another fact that remains is that the trigger for the violence came from Shepard?s alleged grabbing of McKinney?s leg. Obviously McKinney didn?t approve of that sort of advancement — especially one coming from another man.
Thus, homophobia still was a main factor in the motive for the brutal beating and murder of Shepard.
McKinney and Henderson may try to make themselves sound like victims of a crazy drug-driven world; however, no matter how they paint the picture of that gruesome night, it does not take away the fact that Shepard is dead because of their own inadequacies.
Erin Joyce is a senior majoring in communication studies.