Justice for Matt Shepard has been swift. His October 7 beating made national headlines; his death five days later inspired rallies across the country. Human-rights groups in Wyoming today are pushing for legislation that would create tougher penalties for those convicted of bias crimes (they're careful not to call them "hate crimes," though, since that term has created a backlash); prosecutor Cal Rerucha has already indicated that he plans to seek the death penalty against Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Those are the "two young toughs," as Rerucha put it at the arraignment--like Shepard, just 21 years old--who lured him out of a bar with the promise "to get to know each other better." Then, Rerucha says, they beat him and tortured him, and "as he lay there bleeding, and begging for his life, he was then bound to the buck fence. They beat him for $20."
They beat him because he was gay.
McKinney's girlfriend, Kristen Price, has pleaded not guilty to an accessory charge, but late last month Henderson's girlfriend, Chasity Pasley, pleaded guilty to the same charge. And this past Sunday, the body of Henderson's mother was found by the side of another lonely Wyoming road.
In other cases, justice has not been so swift, nor coverage nearly so suffocating. In 1994, the New York City Anti-Violence project released the names of nine victims of Colorado hate crimes over a two-year period. Several were suspected to be the victims of an anti-gay serial killer. Another was Steve Heyman, whose death was still in the Denver police files as a traffic matter.
But that was before Shepard died, before Heyman's friends began remembering, before I called the DPD, where they initially had trouble even finding the file. "Now," says homicide sergeant John Priest, "it's being investigated to determine what kind of case we have. Do we have a hit-and-run or a homicide? Why he was on the highway is a little odd...there appear to be some unanswered things."
Jane Kennedy Rock doesn't have all the answers. But after Shepard died, she says, "I knew I couldn't sit back another moment and not do something." Something for Steve Heyman: "You taught me how to temper my warrior spirit with facts and statistics. You used to always, always have to remind me to fight the war, not the person...Each day it is your voice that echoes in my heart, and whispers over my shoulder, and my heart breaks as I remind myself to fight the war.