- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The killers of college student Matthew Shepard said in their first public interview since the attack that they were motivated not by hatred for homosexuals, but the prospect of robbery to fuel a methamphetamine binge.

“He was pretty well-dressed, had a wallet full of money,” Aaron McKinney said of meeting Mr. Shepard at a Laramie, Wyo., bar in October 1998. “All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him. … Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The interviews aired last night on ABC’s “20/20.”

The robbery got out of hand, said McKinney and his friend, Russell Henderson, and Mr. Shepard was beaten into a coma while tied to a fence outside the small college town. The 21-year-old died five days later.

The crime became a national cause, drawing condemnation from President Clinton, Congress and world leaders and spawning public demonstrations demanding more hate-crimes laws.

Henderson pleaded guilty to avoid a death sentence and agreed to testify against his friend. McKinney’s lawyers tried to present a “gay panic” defense, saying their client went into a blind rage after Mr. Shepard made an unwanted pass at him — a strategy the judge disallowed.

McKinney and Henderson, both 27, are serving life sentences for murder.

McKinney said he killed Mr. Shepard because he was strung out on drugs, not because Mr. Shepard was a homosexual. Henderson agreed, saying, “It’s not because me and Aaron had anything against gays or any of that.”

Henderson said McKinney, who had been bingeing on meth for days, set out that night to rob a dealer of $10,000 worth of the drug. Henderson thought if he could keep McKinney drinking, his friend would forget the plan.

McKinney said Mr. Shepard was sitting at the bar when he and Henderson arrived, and at one point, McKinney asked Mr. Shepard for a cigarette.

“He said he was too drunk to go home, and then he asked me if I’d give him a ride,” McKinney said.

In the truck, McKinney claimed, the two learned that Mr. Shepard wanted sex in return for giving them drugs, but McKinney decided to rob him instead.

According to McKinney, Mr. Shepard grabbed his leg, and he struck Mr. Shepard with his gun and demanded money. Although Mr. Shepard handed over his wallet, the beating continued.

“Sometimes when you have that rage going through you, there’s no stopping it,” McKinney said. “I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.”

They decided to dump Mr. Shepard in a secluded spot, and when they came upon a rustic fence blocking the road, McKinney decided to tie him to it.

“Then when I’m leaving, he says he’s going to tell on me,” McKinney said. “I went back and hit him one more time. I hit him real hard that time.”

One of McKinney’s attorneys, Dion Custis, said Wednesday that drugs and robbery, not sexuality, have long been considered the main motives for the crime.

“If anyone saw the trial and the evidence that was presented at trial, that was exactly what we presented at the time,” he said.

Prosecutor Cal Rerucha also said the case was too complex to simply be labeled a hate crime. He said many people overlooked the drug and robbery aspects of the case at the time of the attack.

“People want an easy answer to this case, and I don’t think we would be here five years later if there was an easy answer,” Mr. Rerucha said.

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