Also Today In History: Details Emerge

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard’s attackers were arraigned in court.

According to reports, Aaron James McKinney and Russel Arthur Henderson, both 21, were arraigned on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. Two accomplices were also arraigned. They were Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18. They were charged with being accessories after the fact.

Fireside LoungeAccording to reports that had emerged to date, McKinney and Hendersen befriended Matthew at the Fireside Lounge, told him they were gay, and lured them to their pick-up truck to give him a ride home. Somewhere near the Wal-Mart, McKinney turned to Matthew and said, “Guess what? We’re not gay, and you’ve just been jacked,” and started beating him inside the truck. They drove out to a field on Snowy Mountain View Road, then dragged Matthew to a fence post, where he was “tied spread-eagle, beaten and burned,” then left to die.

It would later emerge that Matthew hadn’t been burned, nor had he been tied “spread-eagle.” Instead, his hands were tied behind his back, and tied to the fence post just a few inches above the ground. But this early report of being tied “spread-eagle,” along with early descriptions of his being mistaken for a scarecrow, led to later images of Matthew hanging by his arms, appearing as an upright scarecrow or as someone who had been crucified.

Court documents told a clearer story. Shepard was “struck in the head with a pistol,” and the suspects “beat him, while he begged for his life.” According to one report, Shepard received a 2-inch deep gash in his head, crushing his skull. They took his wallet and shoes, and left him tied to the ranch fence, unconscious and barely breathing. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s during the 18 hours Shepard was left outside.

Then McKinney and Hendersen then met up with Pasley and Price, who helped them dispose of their bloody clothing.

Laramie Police commander Dave O’Malley said that while robbery was the chief motive, Matthew was singled out in part because he was gay. He also added that in his 25 years on the police force, he had seen a few hate crimes over the years, “but nothing anywhere near this.”

Matthew was unconscious upon discovery. He has not regained consciousness since then. “They’re not expecting him to ever wake up,” Walter Boulden, a friend of Matthew’s, said.

McKinney and Henderson were then involved with another assault within the same hour. Further investigation stemming from that assault eventually led police to the suspects in Matthew’s beating.

Flowers At the Fence PostA basket of dried flowers appeared on the fence post where Matthew Shepard was left to die. The Denver Post reported that one local resident “wasn’t shocked to hear a gay man had been beaten so severely.” She said: “Here in the rural West, such intolerance still is not that unusual.”

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Emily K

October 9th, 2008

Jim, what does “tied spread-eagle” mean? I’m having trouble placing that visual.

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

“Spread-eagle” generally means that arms and legs are outstretched. This was how he was described in early reports, which generated some urban legends of how he was found.

I updated the article to add the following paragraph after the “spread-eagle” reference:

It would later emerge that Matthew hadn’t been burned, nor had he been tied “spread-eagle.” Instead, his hands were tied behind his back, and tied to the fence post just a few inches above the ground. But this early report of being tied “spread-eagle,” along with early descriptions of his being mistaken for a scarecrow, led to later images of Matthew hanging by his arms, appearing as an upright scarecrow or as someone who had been crucified.

Emily K

October 9th, 2008

In all seriousness, by all literal definitions of what execution by crucifixion is, he was indeed crucified by being tied to a wooden post and left to die of exposure after being beaten. Crucifixion is not limited to being tied arms out-stretched high above the ground, as depicted in Christian artwork.

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