Scientology Crime Syndicate

McKinney learns seriousness of Shepard's murder, pastor says

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) -- Nearly a year into his life sentence in prison, Aaron McKinney knows fully the seriousness of the beating death of Matthew Shepard, a pastor said. The Rev. Roger Schmit of St. Paul's Newman Center said McKinney knows what he did was an "awful, heinous act" and is trying to live out his life as best he can under the circumstances.

"Aaron knows that he should be where he is today," he said.

McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted of beating Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, to death outside Laramie in October 1998. Schmit, an opponent of the death penalty, attended court proceedings and visited McKinney in prison. His Roman Catholic church has organized two vigils in memory of Shepard and in protest of violence. Behind bars, McKinney has reflected a lot on life, has prayed for Shepard, Shepard's family and prosecutor Cal Rerucha, who was ready to give him the death penalty, Schmit said.

After McKinney had time to think about it, he was able to imagine what it would be like to be a grieving parent like Shepard's mother and father, Schmit said. McKinney has an infant son by his ex-girlfriend Kristen LeAnn Price. Price and the son now live in Florida. McKinney does not make excuses for the murder, Schmit said. In fact, there is a lot of goodness in McKinney "and his life is much more than what happened that night."

"Aaron McKinney is a man who has dignity and value and worth, but this is not to minimize what he did," he said.

McKinney's grandmother, Ruth Proctor, said she visits McKinney once or twice a month at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. "He has adjusted real well and he is doing real well up there," she said. He breaks down when he thinks about Shepard, she said.

Proctor said she thinks some money from the Matthew Shepard Foundation should try to help troubled youth like McKinney. The foundation, organized by Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard, is aimed at promoting diversity and helping youth organizations. McKinney's parents divorced when he was little and his mother died when he was 15, Proctor said. Growing up, he was taken advantage of because of his small stature. He eventually got into drugs and crime.

"Aaron should have had help but it never happened," she said.


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