LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Politicians, including President Clinton, joined activists Saturday in urging tougher hate-crime laws following a vicious beating that left a gay college student near death.
Matthew Shepard, a 22-year-old University of Wyoming student, was found beaten, burned and tied to a wooden fence last week. He was in critical condition Saturday at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital.
“This heinous crime deserves the condemnation of all Americans,” House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said of the attack.
The alleged assailants, Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, were charged Friday with attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery. Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, was charged with being an accessory to the crime.
Kristen Leann Price, 18, was arrested for investigation of being an accessory but had not been charged.
Police and hospital officials on Saturday said that McKinney was hospitalized with a fractured skull about the same time as Shepard. Laramie Police Detective Ben Fritzen said the injury was unrelated to the attack, but would not elaborate. Police arrested McKinney at the hospital.
Police said the two men lured Shepard from a campus bar late Tuesday or early Wednesday by telling him they were gay.
The three allegedly drove off in McKinney’s truck, where Shepard was beaten. Later, the assailants tied him to the fence and beat him some more, police said. The victim also was pistol-whipped.
Authorities said the two men made anti-gay remarks to the two women.
Gay-rights activists said the attack shows the need for tougher hate-crime legislation, and reveals a growing national level of intolerance.
“There is a climate right now of intolerance that we believe is being fostered by religious political organizations such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition,” said Kim I. Mills of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay and lesbian political group.
She said the groups began an advertising campaign Thursday “with a message that basically says there’s something wrong with being gay and that you should and can change your sexual orientation,” she said.
“They hear these messages and say, ‘I am going to go out and beat up a fag because they are bad.'”
President Clinton called the attack “horrifying.” He and Gephardt likened the beating to last summer’s racial killing of James Byrd in Texas, and urged Congress to pass pending hate-crimes legislation.
The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group in Washington that has lobbied Congress to reject gay-rights legislation, also condemned the attack.
“Violently attacking a person is unconscionable, whatever the reason,” said Robert H. Knight, the group’s director of cultural studies.
But Knight said some gay rights activists are exploiting the attack to promote hate-crime legislation.
“Every crime is a ‘hate’ crime,” Knight said. “Brutalizing a person is a reprehensible act, regardless of the motivation or the group affiliation of the victim.”