Shepard murder case became gay ‘hate crime,’ not drug deal, as result of public narrative: author

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A gay man whose horrific murder has become synonymous with “hate crime” may have been killed over drugs, not homophobia, according to a book written by a gay researcher.

The renewed assertion that Matthew Shepard was targeted because of a methamphetamine deal — not because he was gay — has sparked outrage, soul-searching and exasperation with fiction passed off as fact.

The accepted story, told and retold for 15 years, is that on the night of Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard, 21, accepted a ride from two strangers he met in a bar. When he made unwanted sexual advances toward them, they robbed him, brutally beat him, tied him to a fence and left him to die in the frigid Wyoming night.

Shepard’s death by homophobia — upheld at times by testimony at the trial of convicted murderer Aaron McKinney — became a galvanizing event in a national movement against violence targeting gays, enshrined in a federal law against hate crimes, pop culture songs, and a long-running play, “The Laramie Project,” which opens Friday at Ford Theater.

But award-winning gay author and journalist Stephen Jimenez spent years reviewing previously sealed case documents and interviewing some 100 people for his tome, “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” which is officially being released Tuesday.

The book contends that Shepard’s murder was more likely a crime sparked by a drug deal gone wrong: Shepard was a known meth dealer and was supposed to have taken in a drug shipment worth $10,000 that night. He and McKinney, a 22-year-old bisexual hustler, were both meth users and had sex with each other on previous occasions, and McKinney was desperate to get the drugs or the money, or both.

In short, Shepard’s homosexuality likely played little, if any, role in the crime.

“Have We Got Matthew Shepard All Wrong?” asked a recent article in the Advocate, a popular magazine for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) readers.

Conservatives have jumped at the idea that a liberal fiction is being exposed, saying it fits a pattern of foundational stories in which the facts do not quite fit the popular narrative.

“As we all know now, the back-story that brought us Roe v. Wade was a lie. And here we find the Matthew Shepard story was also a lie,” Austin Ruse wrote at, referring to false claims by Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey — the plaintiff in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court abortion case — that she got pregnant from a gang rape.

“This week it became obvious that America’s sexual revolution has been built on lies,” wrote Michael Cook, editor of, an Australian website that describes itself as “dedicated to human dignity.”

Even the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case, which struck down the nation’s anti-sodomy laws and paved the way for gay marriage, was built around a case in which the facts were very different from the generally accepted narrative, Mr. Cook and others noted.

As gay law professor Dale Carpenter chronicled in his 2012 book, “Flagrant Conduct,” John Lawrence and Tyron Garner weren’t in a bedroom, weren’t having sex — and weren’t even romantically involved with each other — when Texas police burst into Mr. Lawrence’s apartment in search of a black man with a gun.

But the unproven sodomy charges — hidden behind the gay men’s plea of “no contest” — gave gay-rights lawyers a way to challenge Texas’ anti-sodomy law at the highest level.

That “non-story, carefully edited and taken all the way to the Supreme Court, changed America,” said Aaron Hicklin, editor-in-chief of Out, a magazine for gay men, and author of the article in the Advocate.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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