Matthew Wayne Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998) was a gay American student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie on the night of October 6, 1998. He was taken by rescuers to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died from severe head injuries six days later.
Suspects Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were arrested shortly after the attack and charged with first-degree murder following Shepard's death. Significant media coverage was given to the murder and what role Shepard's sexual orientation played as a motive for the commission of the crime.
The prosecutor argued that McKinney's murder of Shepard was premeditated and driven by greed. McKinney's defense counsel countered by arguing that he had intended only to rob Shepard but killed him in a rage when Shepard made a sexual advance toward him. McKinney's girlfriend told police that he had been motivated by anti-gay sentiment but later recanted her statement, saying that she had lied because she thought it would help him. Both McKinney and Henderson were convicted of the murder, and each of them received two consecutive life sentences.
Shepard's murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and federal level. In October 2009, the United States Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (commonly the "Matthew Shepard Act" or "Shepard/Byrd Act" for short), and on October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law.
Following her son's murder, Judy Shepard became a prominent LGBT rights activist and established the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Shepard's death inspired films, novels, plays, songs, and other works.
Last Updated: June 9, 2021