Defendant in Shepard Murder Pleads Guilty

Receives Two Consecutive Life Terms; Second Defendant's Trial Begins in August

April 6, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(Washington, DC) – The nation's largest gay Republican organization praised the decision by Wyoming District Judge Jeffrey A. Donnell to sentence Russell Henderson to two consecutive life terms in the beating murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie last October. Henderson confessed in court yesterday to his part in the brutal anti-gay murder, escaping a possible death sentence which prosecutors were seeking had Henderson been convicted in a jury trial.

"You are deserving the fullest punishment this court can mete out," said Judge Donnell from the bench as he formally sentenced Henderson. Donnell declared that anti-gay hatred was indeed a motive in the crime, saying the murder was "part because of [Shepard's] lifestyle." Legal experts say is it virtually impossible that Henderson could ever qualify for parole, and the chief prosecutor made his staunch opposition any parole clear on the steps of the courthouse by insisting that Henderson must spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

Co-defendant Aaron McKinney, who Henderson said in his confession was the mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of Shepard, faces trial in August. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if McKinney is convicted by a jury.

"We applaud how the prosecutors and Judge Donnell have conducted this case so far," said Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "They have upheld the principle we have advocated that justice must be complete in this case. As we have been saying since the defendants were apprehended in October, this brutal crime demands the most severe punishment allowed under state law. As anti-gay violence has increased, too many judges and prosecutors around the country have let the murderers of gay Americans off with reduced punishment or none at all. Judge Donnell and the prosecutors have set an example for the rest of the judiciary to follow. We urge them to continue on this course in prosecuting co-defendant Aaron McKinney and those who were accessories to the crime to the fullest extent of the law until this case is closed."

"This case has become such a symbol because of its brutality, and because the anti-gay intolerance that motivates this violence goes right up into the courts in many parts of the country," Tafel said. "We must send a message to every courtroom and every community that the lives of gay Americans are of equal value to every other American, and when the most heinous kind of crimes are committed, the perpetrators must face the most severe punishment under the law."