Editorial 11 - ABC 20/20 Documentary on Murder of Matthew Shepard
The premise of the 20/20 documentary on
the Matthew Shepard murder is that Matthew Shepard's death was due to a meth
addiction one of his murderers had.
There are several weaknesses and concerns about the 20/20 documentary of
the Matthew Shepard murder. A few
weaknesses and concerns in appear below:
McKinney's attorneys bargained with the Shepard family and
the prosecution to have the maximum penalty reduced from the death penalty to
life in prison. In effect, McKinney's
attorneys were begging that his life be spared.
One of the conditions for the Shepards to agree to the reduced sentence
was that McKinney not talk to the media about Matthew Shepard's murder. While
this gag order might not have been part of McKinney's formal sentence, it was
one of the factors that lead the Shepard family to agree to sparing McKinney's
ethics classes and ethics professors could debate 20/20's decision to interview
Mckinney for years. In the opinion of
this writer, the 20/20 decision to interview McKinney is, at best, questionable
journalistic ethics. Why did 20/20
choose to interview a man who agreed not to talk to the media as a condition of
his reduced sentence?
McKinney claims he made up the story that Matthew Shepard
was killed because he was gay. This
means that McKinney misled the police. The 20/20 team are willing to accept the word
of a person who admits to having misled the police and who claims his entire
defense story was not true.
When was McKinney telling the truth? What makes his story to 20/20 accurate when McKinney says he mislead the police and the court? McKinney's new story appears to
agree with the 20/20 premise that the murder was the result of a meth addiction
and not a hate crime seems. Is that the reason why 20/20 believes a man who admits misled people?
McKinney's girlfriend was convicted for being an accessory
in Matthew Shepard's murder. She now
says that she mislead people and said Matthew Shepard was not killed because he was gay. There is a possibility McKinney's old girlfriend is once again attempting to protect McKinney.
Matthew Shepard was living in Laramie, Wyoming when he was
murdered. Laramie is a small city. The 20/20 documentary claims Matthew Shepard
and his murderers knew each other. They
base this on testimony that Matthew Shepard and his killers were seen at the
same event – drug related event - in the months before the murder took place.
The author of
this article has lived in small towns most of his life. Even in towns of under 3,000 people, not
everybody knows everybody in the town.
Once the author was in a church that had about 150 people in regular
attendance. The pastor asked how many
people in the church thought they knew everybody else in the church. Only one person raised a hand. That person was the youth pastor. The youth pastor was in a unique position to
know everybody in the church and would have been expected to try to know
everybody in church. The fact that some
people saw Matthew Shepard and one or more of his murderers at the same event does not prove they knew
each other or that Matthew Shepard was involved in the meth drug scene.
The 20/20 documentary promotes the theory that McKinney
cooked up the story of killing Matthew Shepard because he was gay in an effort
to get a reduced sentence. If McKinney
was actually on a meth high, one wonders if he would have been in a position to
develop and articulate a strong defense.
McKinney said he never met Matthew Shepard before the night
he killed Matthew. The 20/20 team does
not buy that and the documentary appears to support the idea that the two men
knew each other. One could wonder if the 20/20 journalists only chose to believe those things they were told that matched their premise.
The level of violence against Matthew Shepard is
staggering. Matthew Shepard's head injuries were so severe that even his own mother was not initially able to identify Matthew in the hospital. Extreme violence is very common among the murders of members of sexual minority groups. All one needs to do is look at the Stop
Transphobia web site to get a sense of that.
For example, one transgendered person who was murdered was stabbed over
Mrs. Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mother, says the 20/20 documentary left out the comments of Sean Maloney, a former staff member at the White House staff, who shared his legal understanding of the case. She also states she feels her comments to 20/20 were taken out of context to make it sound like she agreed with the 20/20 position.
Journalists from 20/20 also interviewed Dave O'Malley, the Captain of the City of Laramie police department. Mrs. Shepard indicates Mr. O'Malley presented evidence that the murder was a hate crime and that evidence was gathered before a defence was established by the defendants. Evidently, the documentary did not fully outline the evidence Mr. O'Malley presented to the 20/20 journalists. Mrs. Shepard's response can be read on the Matthew Shepard Foundation web site.
The Laramie newspaper, the Laramie Boomerang carried an online article. In the article, the retired Laramie Chief of Police was described as being angry about the 20/20 documentary. According to the article, after the filiming crew left, O'Malley found the crew left emails on his desk. Those emails indicated the focus of the program would be that Matthew Shepard's death was not a hate crime.
The Laramie Boomerang article indicates the Mr. O'Malley felt the 20/20 documentary was not objective in their reporting. The entire article can be read on the Laramie Boomerang web site.
Given the concerns listed, this writer
remains convinced the 20/20 documentary's conclusion that Matthew Shepard's
murder was due only to meth addiction is wrong.
The same night Matthew Shepard was
bashed, McKinney attacked a Hispanic man and beat him. McKinney brutally attacked two men the same
night. Both of those men were members of
minority groups. One could make the case
that the attacks show a pattern. This
lends support to the conclusion that both attacks were hate crimes.
Over the years, numerous gay people have targeted for robbery and other
crimes. There are several reasons why
gay people have traditionally been the target of crimes. Gay people are less likely to report the
crime, if reporting the crime could result in their sexual orientation becoming
common knowledge. For years, the police
often did not treat crimes against gay people as seriously as they did crimes
against straight people. Thus, robbing a
gay person is less dangerous for the criminal than robbing a straight
person. A criminal has the ability to
claim the that assaulting a gay person was just a reaction of fright and horror
to gay sexual advances. This could
result in a reduced sentence should the criminal be caught. Gay people appear to be the natural target
for criminal activities – less likely to report the crime, less likely for the
crime to be vigorously investigated by the police and less likely to be given
the maximum sentence if convicted of the crime.
This author believes the fundamental
facts of the Matthew Shepard murder stand.
The murder was a hate crime.
Matthew Shepard was targeted because he was gay. Targeting a gay person for robbery, even if
money from the robbery is to be used to support a drug addiction, is a hate
This writer does not believe the 20/20 journalists had evil intentions. They were probably trying to show the dangers of meth addictions. The author, however, believes the 20/20 team chose the wrong murder to make their point. Unfortunately, the mistakes of good people, trying to do good things, can hurt people. The 20/20 documentary may have harmed efforts to protect help gay people gain legal protections from hate crimes.