A controversial new book concludes the murder of Matthew Shepard was a result of a methamphetamine-fueled drug war and not anti-gay rage.
Written by gay investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, “The Book of Matthew: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” has divided the gay community and raised questions about the details of the night Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed Shepard. The 360-page exposé challenges evidence used in Shepard’s murder trial by revealing claims that Shepard had peddled methamphetamine and performed sexual acts with one of his murderers.
Jimenez also points the finger at media for “mythologizing the potential motives” of McKinney and Henderson.
“The media didn’t want to think this was anything else but a hate crime,” he said.
The Shepard case was a hate crime made in the court of public opinion and a felony murder case that took place in the commission of a robbery, Jimenez said.
"To the world at large this has become known as the worst anti-gay hate crime in history," he said. "But that’s not what they were convicted of in court."
Jimenez will do a book review at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Gryphon Theatre in Laramie. The event will bring him back to a town where he spent more than a decade reporting on the murder.
Glenn Johnson, a retired school administrator at Laramie Junior High School, helped to coordinate Tuesday's event. He worked with McKinney and Henderson when they attended the school and spent his career dealing with students who were involved in the Laramie drug culture.
He talked to kids about Shepard at the time.
“There are a lot of them who will tell you it was a drug deal gone wrong,” he said.
He saw Jimenez give a book reading in Fort Collins, Colo., and asked him to come to Laramie.
Jimenez vows he’s not coming to Laramie in hopes of inciting a firestorm of controversy.
He wants to sprout conversations.
“Laramie has been dealing with it for a long time, he said. “It’s not like suddenly I am popping up in Laramie to stir up a ruckus. People have different opinions, but that makes for a healthy discussion.”
The book uses 112 named sources and four confidential respondents for on-the-record interviews about Shepard’s drug use and past relationship with one of his murderers, Aaron McKinney.
The story claims McKinney was coming down from a weeklong, meth-fueled bender on Oct. 6, 1998. McKinney believed Shepard could lead him to a delivery to $10,000 worth of meth that he could steal from Shepard. McKinney believed he could beat Shepard and get away with the drugs. But when Shepard was dragged into the prairie, Jimenez claims, McKinney lost control.
Other sources include former Albany County Attorney Cal Rerucha, who prosecuted the Shepard trial, and a former detective for the Laramie Police Department, Ben Fritzen.
“Shepard’s sexual preference … certainly wasn’t the motive in the homicide,” Jimenez quotes Fritzen as saying. “What it came down to really is drugs and money.”
McKinney claimed during testimony he did not know Shepard prior to the night of the murder. He gave testimony saying he was driven to rage when Shepard tried hitting on him. Then he later changed his reason, saying he just wanted to rob Shepard but not kill him.
A Matthew Shepard Foundation spokesman says many of the book’s claims are baseless.
“Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law,” said Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead we remain committed to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it.”