- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley was Aaron McKinney’s neighbor.

He stood up in front of an audience of Laramie residents and University of Wyoming students and faculty and read a letter convicted killer McKinney wrote to accomplice Russell Henderson when they were detained in the local jail. It detailed what Henderson should tell the police and how McKinney should take all the blame.

“This is kind of the sense of Aaron McKinney’s attitude,” he said. “It’s just more of that attitude of no remorse and making up stories.”

This past week at the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, O’Malley said he is occasionally thankful he doesn’t work in huge cities such as New York or Los Angeles because of the safety concerns, but in a small town, knowing the victims or perpetrators in a case can be just as horrible.

He was part of a panel discussion after the Laramie debut screening of the documentary “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine,” created by Michele Josue, a friend of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998. McKinney and Henderson were convicted of the murder and are now serving life sentences.

The discussion was the first time the Laramie community has been able to come together and have a conversation about the case, O’Malley said.

The Laramie Boomerang reports (https://bit.ly/1ehtHS7 ) that it was also the first time O’Malley and retired deputy Reggie Fluty watched the film.

O’Malley was the chief of police at the time, overseeing officers Fluty and Rob DeBree, who also participated in the discussion. Father Roger Schmidt, priest at St. Paul’s Newman Center, conducted Shepard’s funeral service. Jason Marsden, currently the executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, was one of Shepard’s close friends at the time. Both Marsden and Schmidt participated in the discussion.

Moderator Tasha Trajillo asked eight questions about social justice and marriage equality in general, with one or two about Shepard’s case. Audience members asked questions for about 30 minutes. Much of the conversation centered on how each of the panel members changed after Shepard’s death, especially in line with the symposium’s theme of “Taking Courageous Action.”

O’Malley explained how he used to be ignorant about the gay community, but Matthew Shepard’s case quickly changed his thinking. From interviews with members of the LGBTQ community to interview transcripts with McKinney, O’Malley said the case inspired him to take action.

DeBree expressed similar sentiments, adding that he won’t stop fighting or standing up for bullying victims and against intolerance and ignorance. The conversation moved to accepting people for who they are, with all of the panelists agreeing that kindness is key.

“I would love to stop getting emails from parents whose kids are getting bullied. And we can live in that world,” Marsden said. “Everybody just has to wake up and decide they’re going to live in a world that is free from hatred, discrimination and prejudice. Be kind. It costs nothing to be kind. This is not a naïve fantasy. This is what it would actually take. And we can have this wrapped up by the end of the weekend.”

In the film, Marsden shares his story about Shepard, who he knew from a small group of gay friends who hung out together. Josue interviewed the rest of the Shepard family and traveled to various places that were important in Shepard’s life, such as boarding school in Switzerland and a weekend trip to Morocco.

She said her goal was to share the Matthew Shepard she knew with the world. O’Malley, DeBree and Fluty make appearances in the film, describing what it was like when Fluty discovered Shepard comatose and tied to a fence. DeBree drove Josue out to the site where Shepard was found, and O’Malley shared details about McKinney and Henderson.

Schmidt had more of a discussion with Josue about accepting what happened than sharing about Shepard in the film, but he opened up about how the event changed him.

“I’ve always felt a disgust for the way so many people reacted to our brothers and sisters who are gay,” he said. “When this happened, something changed inside me. At that point, I was always fearful to preach about it, but somehow the event gave me more courage. Now, no matter what stares I get or remarks are made, I preach about it - our need to love one another. Sexual orientation is not an excuse to withhold that love.”

The documentary also shows how Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and used the media storm around the case to advocate for social justice.

One of the last questions Trajillo asked was about “The Book of Matt,” which describes a world where Shepard was an underground drug lord and was killed over methamphetamine. Most of the panelists didn’t want to address the topic, not wanting to give it any more attention.

O’Malley and DeBree, however, said they both were personally offended by it, and stood by their original investigation and its conclusions.

“Those men weren’t born that way. It’s learned,” O’Malley said. “And as long as that direction is out there, there’s still a lot of work to do.”


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com



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