Was Matthew Shepard’s Murder A Hate Crime?

In today’s video, Stephen Jimenez, author of The Book Of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, considers the role that homophobic hatred played in Matthew Shepard’s murder and whether the brutality of the crime is consistent with other cases of meth-related violence:

A reader counters a previous one:

The gratuitous brutality of the torture and murder is more consistent with anti-gay violence than most drug-related violence – at least in this country. These things should be acknowledged first and last.

This is exactly the issue with these hate crime laws. They make it not about the torture and murder, but about the motivation. If gratuitous brutality, torture and murder are the problem, we have enforceable laws for that. Putting together the specious correlation above, and then using the moral weight borrowed from the claimed correlation to justify the thought-crime, it’s utterly backwards. Hate is a sin, but it cannot be a crime. Justice cannot be objective if it is asked to judge souls, and it must be objective; it’s too corruptible otherwise.

We saw with the Trayvon Martin case the problem we get into when the criminal code ends up resting on what story people attach to the facts. There are always other stories that can be fit on. If we care about the law, we can’t let it rest on something as thin as motivation.


Regarding the reader who said he was done with you over the Jimenez videos, I can understand where he is coming from; I can feel the pain and fear that the unspoken circumstances surrounding the horrific murder might change opinions about Matthew.

The fact is, a lot of people expect victims to be perfect or else their victim status is suspect, like the idea of rape not being rape if the woman is wearing a short skirt and thereby “asking for it.” And the reader’s fear will probably be right for a percentage of those getting the fuller picture. Adding drugs and bisexuality can negate empathy, especially for those uncomfortable with those issues in the first place.

However, nothing will ever get better if we don’t live with reality as it is. Matthew’s history leading up to his death does not change the fact that his murder was horrific and should never have happened. As much as I understand the reader’s perspective, keeping the truth hidden is not the answer. The reason I subscribe and usually check this blog several times a day comes from the fact that you do deal with reality, showing more than one side or perspective on the topics you cover. I may not always agree, but I sure enjoy the debate.

The Book Of Matt comes out September 24 and you can pre-order it here. Kirkus’ summary of the book:

An award-winning journalist uncovers the suppressed story behind the death of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student whose 1998 murder rocked the nation. Jimenez was a media “Johnny-come-lately” when he arrived in Laramie in 2000 to begin work on the Shepard story. His fascination with the intricate web of secrets surrounding Shepard’s murder and eventual elevation to the status of homosexual martyr developed into a 13-year investigative obsession. The tragedy was “enshrined…as passion play and folktale, but hardly ever for the truth of what it was”: the story of a troubled young man who had died because he had been involved with Laramie’s drug underworld rather than because he was gay.

Drawing on both in-depth research and exhaustive interviews with more than 100 individuals around the United States, Jimenez meticulously re-examines both old and new information about the murder and those involved with it. Everyone had something to hide. For Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted of Shepard’s murder, it was the fact that he was Shepard’s part-time bisexual lover and fellow drug dealer. For Shepard, it was that he was an HIV-positive substance abuser with a fondness for crystal meth and history of sexual trauma. Even the city of Laramie had its share of dark secrets that included murky entanglements involving law enforcement officials and the Laramie drug world.

So when McKinney and his accomplices claimed that it had been unwanted sexual advances that had driven him to brutalize Shepard, investigators, journalists and even lawyers involved in the murder trial seized upon the story as an example of hate crime at its most heinous. As Jimenez deconstructs an event that has since passed into the realm of mythology, he humanizes it. The result is a book that is fearless, frank and compelling. Investigative journalism at its relentless and compassionate best.

Steve’s previous videos are here and here. Our full video archive is here.