Gay man clings to life after attack


      LARAMIE, Wyo., Oct. 11 —   A gay college student was clinging to life Sunday as residents — gay and straight — condemned his brutal beating but defended Wyoming as a safe, fair-minded place to live. Matthew Shepard was found savagely pistol-whipped and tied to a fence outside town last week. Police have said robbery was the main motive, but the two men accused in the bludgeoning also targeted Shepard because he flirted with one of them at a bar, The Denver Post reported Sunday.
        SHEPARD, 21, WAS unconscious Sunday at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital in critical condition with severe head injuries. Hospital officials said his condition had deteriorated since the midweek beating.
       Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, were charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery because Shepard’s wallet and patent leather shoes were stolen. Police said they lured Shepard from a University of Wyoming hangout by telling him they were gay.
       Two women who allegedly helped the two men dump their bloody clothing reported them to police, reportedly telling police the men made anti-gay remarks. Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were charged with being accessories after the fact.
       The two men never set out to nearly kill Shepard, but McKinney was embarrassed that Shepard flirted with him in front of his friends, Price and McKinney’s father told the Denver newspaper.
       Price admitted she and Pasley initially lied to police about the whereabouts of their boyfriends Tuesday night, but said none of the four hate gays.
       “It wasn’t meant to be a hate crime,” she said. “They just wanted to rob him.”
       The elder McKinney said there’s no excuse for the crime, but that the media had blown the story out of proportion.
       “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news,” he told the Post. “Now my son is guilty before he’s even had a trial.”
       Shepard’s parents said in a statement Saturday that if their son could speak, he would “emphasize he does not want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the fine reputations of Laramie or the university.”
       “He is a trusting person who takes everyone at face value and does not see the bad side of anyone,” the statement said. “His one intolerance is when people don’t accept others as they are.”
       A close friend, Alex Trout, was surprised Shepard was targeted for attack because of his sexual preference, as police believe. Trout said his own homosexuality has never caused a problem in his four years in Laramie, a Western-tinged college town with a population of 27,000.
       “In a sense (Wyoming) is ‘red neck,’ but it’s not so bad (that) gays can’t live here,” Trout said.
       “Most of Wyoming has an attitude of live and let live,” said Joe Corrigan, cofounder of United Gays and Lesbians of Wyoming.
       Residents of what is nicknamed the Equality State agreed.
       Heather Dunmire, a 20-year-old student who knew the two accused men, said the state doesn’t deal with homosexuality as much as other areas, “but I don’t think we’re completely in the back woods.”
       “Wyoming should not be judged on these four jerks that did this,” add Dunmire, who grew up in Rock River, 35 miles northwest of Laramie.
       “I think it was a handful of individuals that can be found anywhere that did this,” said Jeff Scott, 38, a 21-year Laramie resident. “It doesn’t have to do anything with the state or a city or anything else.”
The beating of the 5-foot-2, 105-pound Shepard came just before National Coming Out Day, which was Sunday, and on the heels of an advertising campaign by so-called family values groups urging gays to renounce homosexuality.
       “I hope this is a wake-up call,” said Terry Summers of Lambda Community Center, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based gay rights group, who joined fellow activists nationwide in calling for hate-crime legislation.
       Shepard, who left Wyoming as a teen to finish high school in Switzerland, overcame worries about coming back to attend the University of Wyoming.
       “He had a lot of the same fears other people have coming into a small community,” said Walt Boulden, a graduate student. “When he left Wyoming he had just started dealing with being gay. So he was very concerned about the attitudes when he first came back.
       “But he really felt at home and comfortable here. He felt this was the place to be right now.”
       © 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  <!--webbot bot="HTMLMarkup" endspan --></body> </html>