No Hate Crime Law in Wyoming
Authorities believe Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, 22, befriended Shepard in a downtown Laramie bar, convinced him they were gay, offered him a ride and then tortured and beat him, stealing $20 for cigarettes and gas.
     Henderson’s girlfriend, Chasity Vera Pasley, has pleaded guilty to helping cover up the crime and is awaiting sentencing. McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristin LeAnn Price, will be tried in May for allegedly helping dispose of Shepard’s bloodied clothing.
     McKinney’s trial is scheduled for August.
     Shepard’s murder was a touchstone for anti-hate crimes activists. Thousands attended candlelight vigils and rallies in Wyoming, Colorado, California, New York and Maryland to protest anti-gay violence.
     “They didn’t just kill him — what they did affected the entire gay community in the country and in the world,” says Sue Anderson, executive director of Equality Colorado, which reported 60 anti-gay incidents in Colorado last
year.
     “It put fear and anger in a lot of people’s hearts.”

A Chilling Message
Only 21 states cover incidents motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation. Ten states, including Wyoming, have no hate crime laws.
     In 1997, more than 1,000 anti-gay hate crimes were reported to the FBI; 2,930 attacks on lesbians and gay men were documented by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs — and last year, three incidents of crimes based on sexual orientation were reported to Wyoming’s state government reporting agency.
     In January, gay rights activists lost their battle for passage of bias crime legislation that would have provided penalties for hate crimes in Wyoming.
     Some advocates expect attorneys for the defendants to use a strategy that will place some blame on Shepard’s sexual orientation.
     “There have been many situations where a gay person has been attacked and the perpetrator says, ‘He made a pass at me so I had to beat him up,’” says Rebecca Isaacs, political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
     “But you can’t kill people, and no kind of homophobic response is going to change the mentality that killing is wrong.”

Recent Murders Shock the Nation
The trial comes in the wake of two recent killings that have drawn national public attention to hate violence.
     Earlier this month, the severed head of Henry Edward Northington, 39, was left on a walkway leading to a popular meeting place for gays in Richmond, Va. Police, who found the rest of his body in the James River, said the gruesome act was meant to serve as a message to the gay community. No arrests have been made.
     And in February, the charred remains of Billy Jack Gaither, 39, were found in Sylacauga, Ala. Gaither was beaten with an ax handle, thrown onto a stack of tires soaked with gasoline and set afire. Authorities have arrested two men, Steven Eric Mullins and Charles Monroe Butler, in connection with Gaither’s death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Attacks Upon Gays and Lesbians: 1997

Documented Incidents:

2,445

Victims:

2,930

Assault Crimes:

968

Required Hospital Treatment

243

Minor Injury:

505

Murders:

18

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs

 


Hate Crimes Bill Under Review
Advocates believe the attack on Matthew Shepard shows a need for federal approval of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill re-introduced this year that would make federal offenses of crimes based on the victim’s sex, disability or sexual orientation. The current law only covers crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.
     “Obviously, the James Byrd [Texas dragging death] murder and the Matthew Shepard case have made an incredible impact as to whether there should be federal protection and attention to the issue of hate crimes,” said Jeff Montgomery with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an umbrella organization for local groups that monitor anti-gay violence.
     Supporters say federal involvement could speed up prosecutions and institute tougher sentencing penalties to adult defendants who encourage minors to commit hate crimes.
     On Tuesday, Shepard’s mother asked Congress to enact bias crime laws.
     “They can help change the climate in this country, where some people feel it is OK to target specific groups of people and get away with it,” Judy Shepard said at a Washington, D.C., news conference.
     But opponents of the proposed legislation believe federal intervention in most hate crimes cases will undermine the role of the states in prosecuting and investigating cases.

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