Matthew Wayne “Matt” Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998) was an American student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming on the night of October 6, 1998, and died six days later at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12, from severe head injuries. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were arrested shortly after the attack and charged with murder following Shepard’s death. Significant media coverage was given to what role Shepard’s sexual orientation played in the killing. During McKinney’s pretrial and trial, testimony was given that the pair had pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard’s trust in order to rob him. McKinney’s prosecutor argued the murder was premeditated and driven by greed, while McKinney’s defense counsel argued that McKinney had only intended to rob Shepard, but had killed him in a rage when Shepard made a sexual advance. 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 sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Shepard’s murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels. 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, Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard became a prominent LGBT rights activist and established the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Shepard’s death inspired notable films, novels, plays, songs, and other works.
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