Stop Homophobia


Editorial 10 - Response to Article Saying Matthew Shepard Was Killed Because of a Drug Debt

The following letter was written in response to a December 6, 2004 article by Bill Fancher. The article states Matthew Shepard was "was killed for refusing to pay drug dealers for his drugs." The article can be found on the Agape Press web site. The author gave us permission to have his letter of response on our web site.

I must begin by stating that I am both a Christian and a heterosexual male, although by now getting to an age that the issue is not what it might have been earlier in life. I am writing in the hopeful belief that we can agree that a passage of Deuteronomy (6, 20 endorsed by Luke 18, 20) regarding bearing false witness remains in force, even if the offense may be (as I am sure it is) unintentional. This newsletter qualifies as such an offense, albeit (I am sure) without intent.

First, before commenting on the 20/20 program regarding the murder of Matthew Shepard, you should be aware of the public statements issued by three of the people interviewed for the program, Mr. Dave O'Malley of the Laramie Police Department, Mr. Cal Rerucha, the former District Attorney for Albany County, Wyoming, and Mrs. Judy Shepard. All state that their comments were deliberately misrepresented so as to convey the precise opposite of their opinions. They say that they took the view that while drugs were an aggravating factor, they were not the primary reasons for the attack, and that it is improbable that the two killers were coming off a meth high. That, by the way, is consistent with the only evidence given under oath on the point by either the prosecution or the defence. The interests of truth should make you obliged to consider why they have felt the need to make those statements, and I strongly suggest that you do so.

In this, let me assure you that you are much less at fault than "Focus on the Family" which accepts the 20/20 story uncritically, but which does not hesitate to denounce, on some very shaky ground, the reporting of another network and reporter. That is worthy of praise.

Second, I regret to inform you that most, indeed nearly all the "new facts" are not new, and whether they are facts is debatable. They were rather well and thoroughly explored by a "Vanity Fair" article published in April, 1999 and a "Harper's" article done in September, 1999. Both writers concluded that whatever role drugs may have played, they do not shake the conclusion that even if the crime was not initially a bias crime fuelled by a hatred of homosexuals, it developed into one. Both investigations were a great deal more thorough than was the ABC effort.

Third, I wish to deal with one statement you make, which can not be supported by the 20/20 program, and which is indeed refuted by it. The statement in question is "Now, however, it has been revealed that the young man was killed for refusing to pay drug dealers for his drugs." It has NOT been so revealed, and the kindest thing I can say about this is that you have either conflated two very different allegations, one more probable than the other, or have been going by an inaccurate preview - no doubt MassNews if I read you correctly.

To begin with, there is a throwaway allegation, source not given, that Mr. Shepard tried to strike a drugs for sex deal after getting a ride. The source would have to be one of the two living witnesses to that ride, Mr. McKinney. The other surviving witness, Mr. Henderson, has consistently denied that Mr. Shepard ever did show such an interest, or that he ever made a sexual advance of any kind. This allegation is a trifle short of the requirement of at least two witnesses demanded by scripture to establish a statement as true (cf. Matthew 18, 16; Deuteronomy 19, 15; John 8, 17; I Timothy 5, 19). Indeed, like the false witnesses at Jesus' supposed trial before the Sanhedrin, the witnesses contradict each other (Mark 15, 56-59).

The second item which could be constructed to support this claim does, in fact, deny it, and on this there is some independent corroboration. This is Russell Henderson's apparent statement (I say apparent because the statement is given without citation or source) that Mr. McKinney did imagine that a drug dealer owed him $10,000 and he was going to rob him of it. The tale is that Mr. Henderson took Mr. McKinney out to the bars to get his mind off it - and then he does say on camera that he realized that Mr. Shepard was going to be robbed, although he was not the drug dealer in question. And Mr. McKinney, in this instance, agrees, saying that he had never met Mr. Shepard before. I would add that I am aware from other sources that Mr. McKinney did have some such robbery in mind, although Mr. Shepard was not the target. As I have earlier noted these allegations are not as new as you make them appear to be.

My fourth and fifth points are more central, and I will construct a parallel which is not far-fetched. Indeed, it was quite commonplace in the former Soviet Union, and not so very long ago.

Let us suppose that two thugs, suitably liquored up or drugged out, set about a Christian and end up killing him. This is in a society where Christians are in some official disfavour, and rather unpopular. Their purpose might well just be robbery, death being an unfortunate side-effect. But there is a reason why Christians are easier targets. Not being popular, and often having to profess their faith with some discretion, if not secrecy, they are much less likely to go to the authorities, and the authorities are not much inclined to believe them - if, indeed, there isn't a suspicion that the Christian asked for it. Perhaps by preaching the Gospel.

Even if the real purpose was robbery, and even if the two imagined thugs had no personal dislike of Christians, it would still be a hate crime, and I doubt that you would hesitate for an instant to call it that. It is a hate crime because you can use a popular dislike, if not prejudice, to target a specific kind of individual - in this case the victim's personal faith.

The parallel holds good here. If you rely, as this program and your article do rely, on the testimony of the two killers, then you must rely on Mr. Henderson's word that Mr. Shepard was targeted precisely because he was an easy target, his being a homosexual being one of several factors which made him so. And you must also admit the repeated statement of Mr. McKinney that if he did not start out with that intention, it became so as the robbery progressed. he imagined a sexual advance (one which Mr.Henderson denies), and reacted. Even the new, revised version does not change that part of his recollection.

That is my fourth point to you: that the targeting of Mr. Shepard because his sexuality made him an easier target for a crime than another might be makes this one a bias crime. Just as it would be in my parallel case of the assault on a Christian. In that case, the claimed lack of prejudice by the attackers, and their impairment through vodka (or whatever) would not disqualify it as a hate crime against Christians.

My fifth point also draws on my parallel. We will suppose our thugs and their friends really are not prejudiced against Christians, and that the victim's Christianity had nothing to do with his being targeted. But, in reflecting on the fact that you have been so foolish as to have been caught, you conclude that since Christians are not a particularly popular group, you will base your defence on that unpopularity. You might begin by saying that the victim started pressing his religious opinions on you - maybe he even dragged out his Bible. And you could then leave the implication that he was asking for it. This might not get you off completely, but you might get a judge and jury to take a more kindly view of your motivations than you might get if you tried to argue that you were drunk or high and just wanted to rob the dead man.

And in making that defense, you have elevated it into a bias crime. For you are calculating on a prejudice which you believe is widely held.

That was exactly what Mr. McKinney and his former girlfriend, Ms. Price, now wish us to believe. If we are to believe them, they turned it into a hate crime if it had not already been so. That was not the doing of the media: it was their own doing, and they did it immediately. And that presumes that while we should believe they were telling stories then, they are not telling stories now.

In no civil law can you get into trouble by libelling the dead. That, however, is not a rule which will apply at the High Judgement Seat of God. I would wish that this unhappy report is the consequence of slovenliness and thoughtlessness rather than a desire to bear false witness. But the effect of thoughtlessness and slovenliness does amount to bearing false witness in fact, and I hope you will think better on this whole topic. This does not require any change of mind either on the evils of methaphetamines or homosexuality. But it does require a renewed commitment to bear witness to the truth, that truth which does set us free.

Yours faithfully,

John Patrick Day