washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Inside the A Section

Gay Student's Killers Say Money, Not Homophobia, Was Crime's Motive

Associated Press
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page A15

CHEYENNE, Wyo., Nov. 25 -- In their first public interviews since attacking gay college student Matthew Shepard, his killers said they were motivated not by homophobia but by the prospect of robbery to fuel a methamphetamine binge.

"He was pretty well-dressed, had a wallet full of money," Aaron McKinney said of meeting Shepard at a Laramie bar in October 1998. "All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him. . . . Seemed like a good idea at the time."

The interviews will air Friday on ABC News's "20/20."

The robbery got out of hand, said McKinney and his friend Russell Henderson, and Shepard was beaten into a coma while tied to a fence outside the small college town. The student, 21, died five days later.

The crime drew condemnation from President Bill Clinton, Congress and the international community, and it spurred debate on the effectiveness of "hate crime" laws. McKinney and Henderson, both 27 now, are serving life sentences for murder.

McKinney said he killed Shepard because he was strung out on drugs, not because Shepard was gay. Henderson agreed, saying, "It's not because me and Aaron had anything against gays or any of that."

Henderson said that McKinney, who had been bingeing on meth for days, set out that night to rob a dealer of $10,000 worth of the drugs. Henderson thought that if he could keep McKinney drinking, his friend would forget the plan.

McKinney said that Shepard was sitting at the bar when he and Henderson arrived, and that at one point McKinney asked Shepard for a cigarette.

"He said he was too drunk to go home, and then he asked me if I'd give him a ride," McKinney said.

In the truck, McKinney said, the two learned Shepard wanted sex in return for giving them drugs, but McKinney decided to rob Shepard instead.

According to McKinney, Shepard grabbed his leg and he struck Shepard with his gun and demanded money. Although Shepard handed over his wallet, the beating continued.

"Sometimes when you have that rage going through you, there's no stopping it," McKinney said. "I've attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges."

The two men said that they decided to dump Shepard in a secluded spot, and that when they came upon a rustic fence blocking the road, McKinney decided to tie him to it.

"Then when I'm leaving, he says he's going to tell on me," McKinney said. "I went back and hit him one more time. I hit him real hard that time."

One of McKinney's attorneys, Dion Custis, said Wednesday that drugs and robbery, not sexuality, have long been considered the main motives for the crime.

"If anyone saw the trial and the evidence that was presented at trial, that was exactly what we presented at the time," he said.

Prosecutor Cal Rerucha also said that the case was too complex to simply be labeled a hate crime. He said many people overlooked the drug and robbery aspects of the case at the time of the attack.

"People want an easy answer to this case, and I don't think we would be here five years later if there was an easy answer," Rerucha said.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company