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Wyo. Judge Bars 'Gay Panic' Defense

Aaron James McKinney, defendant in the Matthew Shepard murder, arrives at the Albany County district courtroom for a preliminary hearing November 19, 1998. (Reuters)
By Robert W. Black
Associated Press Writer
Monday, November 1, 1999; 11:27 a.m. EST

LARAMIE, Wyo. A judge today barred defense lawyers from using a "gay panic" defense in the murder trial of a man accused of beating gay college student Matthew Shepard.

State District Judge Barton Voigt told lawyers for Aaron McKinney that the strategy was, in effect, a temporary insanity or a diminished capacity defense, both of which are prohibited under Wyoming law.

McKinney, 22, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in Shepard's death last year. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming political science major suffered at least 18 blows to the head.

Prosecutors say McKinney and Russell Henderson, 22, posed as homosexuals, lured Shepard out of a downtown bar, drove him to a remote fence, tied him to it and pistol-whipped him into a coma. Police said robbery was the main motive but that Shepard may also have been singled out because he was gay.

During opening statements, the defense told jurors that the crime was triggered by a combination of McKinney's drug and alcohol use, traumatic youthful homosexual episodes and an unwanted sexual advance by Shepard.

They had hope to borrow a page from what is informally called a "gay panic" defense, built on a theory that a person with latent gay tendencies will have an uncontrollable, violent reaction when propositioned by a homosexual.

Prosecutor Cal Rerucha countered that such testimony would give others an excuse to kill people they don't like, such as minorities.

And the judge said today that he did not believe defense attorneys had offered any evidence that such a strategy would be relevant.

"Even if relevant, the evidence will mislead and confuse the jury," he stated in a written order released before the trial resumed today.

McKinney could receive the death penalty if convicted. Henderson received two life sentences after pleading guilty in April to felony murder and kidnapping.

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© 1999 The Associated Press

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