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Gay Assault Victim Dies; Not a Hate Crime, Claims Accomplice

By Tom Kenworthy
The Washington Post

Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was savagely beaten last week in an apparent anti-gay attack, died early Monday at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital.

Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, will now face charges of first-degree murder rather than attempted murder, and their girlfriends, Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18, will face charges of being accessories after the fact to first-degree murder rather than being accessories to attempted murder. The two men also face charges of kidnapping and robbery.

Shepard, 21, was lured from a bar popular with University of Wyoming students last Tuesday night, beaten with a pistol butt and left tied to a fence just outside of Laramie. He never regained consciousness during the four days he was hospitalized, and died at 12:53 a.m. Monday at Poudre Valley Hospital, with his parents at his bedside.

Responding to news of the death, Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer (R) said that all Wyoming residents "feel a sense of tragedy and disbelief that a human life could be taken in such a brutal way."

At a fund-raiser in New York Monday, President Clinton said, "The indications are that he was beaten so badly because he was gay by people who were either full of hatred or full of fear or both." Earlier Clinton urged Congress to pass legislation making federal prosecution of hate crimes against homosexuals easier.

Other national leaders, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., denounced the attack on Shepard and vigils were held for the slain student, including one at the U.S. Capitol.

Shepard's beating has been widely portrayed by gay rights activists and others as a hate crime. But Price, McKinney's girlfriend, told the Denver Post that her boyfriend intended only to rob Shepard after the university student embarrassed him by flirting with him at a bar.

"It wasn't meant to be a hate crime," Price told the Post in an article that appeared on Sunday. "They just wanted to rob him."

The beating of Shepard has shed a national spotlight on Wyoming and the failure of its legislature to enact anti-hate crimes legislation. At a Sunday night vigil in Laramie, petitions urging the legislature to act were circulated among several hundred people who paid tribute to Shepard.