Gay student brutalized in Wyoming
October 9, 1998

     LARAMIE, Wyo. -- A gay student at the University of Wyoming was savagely
beaten, burned and left to die tied to a wooden fence. Four suspects were
     A passer-by found Matthew Shepard, a 22-year-old political science major,
bloody and unconscious Wednesday evening a mile northeast of Laramie. His
skull had been smashed with a blunt object.
     Shepard was in critical condition and on a respirator at Poudre Valley
Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. He was last heard from Tuesday evening when he
called friends from a bar.
     A University of Wyoming student and three other people were arrested
Thursday in connection with the beating and were scheduled to be in court
     Robbery was the motive, but Shepard was victimized in part because he is
gay, police Cmdr. Dave O'Malley said. The prosecutor's had no immediate
comment on whether bias charges would be pursued.
     Shepard was found by a man on a bicycle who at first thought he was a
scarecrow or dummy because of the way he was positioned on the fence, O'Malley
     Russel Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron McKinney, whose age was not
immediately available, were expected to be charged with attempted first-degree
murder, kidnapping and robbery.
     Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, a student, and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were
expected to be charged with being accessories after the fact, O'Malley said.
     O'Malley said the two men lured the victim from the Fireside Lounge, a
campus hangout, by telling him they were gay.
     He said the three drove off in McKinney's truck. The two beat Shepard in
the truck, then continued to beat him after tying him up to the fence outside
Laramie. They took his wallet and shoes and left him, O'Malley said.
     Later, the two young women helped them get rid of their bloody clothing.
     He said the two men made anti-gay statements to the two women, who told
police about them.
     Shepard had twice been beaten recently and attributed those attacks to
his open homosexuality, friends said. O'Malley confirmed those beatings but
said they took place outside Laramie.
     His small size, open personality and homosexuality combined to make him a
target for viciousness, friends said.
     A University of Wyoming student said anti-gay sentiment is strong in this
rural area.
     "That has to do with the fact this is a cowboy place. People aren't
exposed to it. They're too closed-minded,'' said Alicia Alexander, a 20-year-
old sophomore.
     "It's really hard to be gay and live in Wyoming because of the good-
ol'-boy network,'' said another student, Kete Blonigen.
     "It's such a conservative state,'' she said. "I'm almost afraid and
expecting someone to say, 'He was gay. What does it matter?'  I can totally
see that happening. I'm disgusted by this whole thing.''
     A bill that would have created a bias crime law, adding extra penalties
for criminals who target victims because of their race, religion or sexual
orientation, died in the Wyoming Senate in February.  Opponents to the bill
argued that it would have expanded rights for homosexuals.
     "More rural states are known for having a less tolerant, more
aggressively hateful political structure and social structure,'' said Lester
Olmstead-Rose, executive director of Community United Against Violence, a gay
rights group in San Francisco. "If there's a feeling that you can get away
with it, you might just try.''
     He said that as a result, many gay people flee rural and suburban areas
and move to cities, even though the level of anti-gay violence is high even in
New York, San Francisco and other metropolitan areas.  O'Malley, a 25-year
veteran of the police force, said there had been a few hate crimes over the
years, "but nothing anywhere near this.''

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