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For the first time in 20 years, the coroner who conducted Matthew Shepard’s autopsy has spoken publicly about the report.

Julie Heggie, then-Albany County coroner, told Wyoming Public Media in a story published Friday that Shepard had hand-shaped bruising around his genitals and no methamphetamine in his system.

“I would say that it was more hands and fingers,” Heggie said of the assault in the interview with WPM. “It seemed more likely that the bruising took place possibly while he was detained, so I think maybe some grabbing and that sort of thing.”

Shepard’s murder was clearly a hate crime, Heggie said, in contrast to widely criticized alternate narratives that have gained popularity following the publication of a book that claims two men killed Shepard because of a meth deal gone wrong.

Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney attacked Shepard, a 21-year-old gay Casper native and University of Wyoming student, on Oct. 6, 1998, leaving him tied to a fence outside of Laramie. He died six days later in a Fort Collins, Colorado, hospital. Shepard’s death drew national media attention to Wyoming and became a major moment in the equal rights movement for the LGBTQ community.

His killers are serving multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The autopsy had never been released to the public, but reporter Melodie Edwards said WPM obtained the report. Heggie told WPM that the bruising near Shepard’s genitals was consistent with his killers grabbing him forcefully.

“That brings a lot of red flags up,” she said in the radio story.

Shepard had antidepressants and possibly low levels of marijuana and alcohol in his system, Heggie said, but no hard drugs.

She said the alternate narratives attributing Shepard’s death to a drug deal gone wrong are absurd.

“I think everybody knows this was a hate crime,” she said. “I think people are lying to themselves if they believe this was not a hate crime.”

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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