3 arrested in attack on gay man
By Coleman Cornelius, Kit Miniclier and Jim Hughes
Denver Post Staff Writers
October 9, 1998

Oct. 9 - LARAMIE - An openly gay student at the University of Wyoming - a diminutive man who wanted to dedicate his life to the fight for human rights - was savagely beaten and left to die for up to 18 hours on a wooden ranch fence outside Laramie.

Three University of Wyoming students - ages 21, 20 and 18 - were arrested Thursday in connection with the beating. Authorities said they expect more arrests and are not discounting that it was an anti-gay hate crime.

Matthew Shepard, a 21-yearold political science major, was found tied to a fence "like a scarecrow" 1 mile east of Laramie on Wednesday evening. He was unconscious, and his skull had been smashed with a blunt object; he also appeared to have sustained burns on his body and cuts on his head and face, his family said.

Shepard almost died of blood loss before passers-by discovered him, said his uncle, R.W. Eaton of Denver.

Friends said they last heard from Shepard on Tuesday evening when he called from a bar. He was found Wednesday evening by two motorcyclists who at first thought he was a scarecrow because of the way he was positioned on the fence, said Albany County Sheriff Gary Puls.

Shepard was transported to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, where he was in critical condition in the intensive-care unit Thursday night. He remained unconscious and was clinging to life with the help of a respirator, hospital officials and family members said.

Neither authorities nor friends and family could immediately confirm that the brutal beating was motivated by Shepard's sexual orientation.

However, Shepard had been beaten up twice in the recent past - his jaw was broken last summer - and he attributed those attacks to his open homosexuality, friends said.

His small size, open personality and homosexuality combined to make him a target for viciousness, those who know Shepard said.

Puls, who initially characterized the attack as a "hate crime," was later asked if it was an anti-gay attack. "At the present time we are not confirming that," Puls said.

Shocked friends and family, keeping vigil at the Fort Collins hospital, described Shepard as open, loving and slight - 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 105 pounds. His boyishness is highlighted by the braces on his teeth, said his aunt, Roxanne Rose of Denver.

"He's a small person with a big heart, mind and soul that someone tried to beat out of him," Eaton said. "Right now, he's in God's hands."

His aunt and uncle described Shepard's appearance as horrifying, with wounds concentrated on his head and face. The most severe blow was inflicted with a weapon akin to a rifle butt or baseball bat and probably caused irreparable brain damage, Eaton said.

"He looks like hell," Rose said. "I can't explain it. I don't know how to explain it. He is hanging onto life by a thread."

Said Eaton: "It's like something you might see in war."

On Tuesday night, in the hours before he was attacked, Shepard went alone to the Fireside Bar, described as a college hangout in Laramie.

None of his closest friends could contact him that night or the following day. Worried, they called police and found that Shepard had been beaten, nearly to death, said Tina LaBrie, 26, also a student.

Authorities did not disclose what happened to Shepard after he left the bar and before he was found.

LaBrie and Shepard's other friends said they could not imagine such an attack in Laramie.

"It's a brutal thing to happen in a little town," said Phil LaBrie, 26, who described himself as Shepard's best friend.

The trio awaiting arraignment today are:

Russel Arthur Henderson, 21, of 3443 Fort Sanders Drive, arrested for investigation of attempted first-degree murder.

Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, of the same address, arrested for investigation as an accessory to the crime.

Kristin Leann Price, 18, of 751 N. Fourth St., arrested for investigation as an accessory. Shepard spent some of his time growing up in Casper. His father and mother, Dennis and Judy Shepard, live in Saudi Arabia, where the elder Shepard works as an oil rig safety inspector.

The parents were en route to Fort Collins, Eaton said.

Due to his father's overseas work, Matthew Shepard traveled extensively during his school years, studying at boarding schools in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.

During the past several years, he lived in Denver, where he worked as a waiter and retail clerk.

He moved to Laramie last spring to enter college as a freshman, his aunt and uncle said. He had wanted to attend the University of Wyoming because it was his father's alma mater, they said.

Shepard was born and raised in Casper. He attended schools in Switzerland, on the East Coast and in Denver. He attended Casper Junior College before transferring to the University of Wyoming this fall, friends said.

In addition to his political science major, Shepard was pursuing a minor in foreign languages and could speak Arabic and German.

Likes political debate

He enjoyed spirited political debate and wanted to work as a human-rights advocate on behalf of the impoverished and downtrodden, friends said.

Walt Boulden said he had known the victim for eight years and believed he was the last friend to talk to him Tuesday from the bar.

Boulden told reporter Tiffany Edwards of the Laramie Boomerang newspaper that the attack illustrated the need for Wyoming to pass a hate-crime bill.

Efforts to pass hate-crime legislation in Wyoming have failed repeatedly because critics have said it would give homosexuals special rights, said Marv Johnson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Wyoming.

Denver Post staff writer Marilyn Robinson contributed to this report.


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