Investigation Discovery’s ‘The Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime’ chronicles how a 21-year-old homosexual student, Matthew Shepard, was robbed and beaten to death near Laramie, Wyoming, in early October 1998. The perpetrators — Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson — were arrested within hours of the crime due to an unrelated incident initially. If you wish to learn more about the killers and their current whereabouts, we’ve your back. Let’s begin then, shall we?
Who Are Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson?
Aaron J. McKinney was a 22-year-old roofer who had dropped out of high school in October 1998. He was known around Laramie, Wyoming — a college town characterized by its reliance on higher education for economic stability while still upholding a conservative ranching culture — for his short temper and willingness to brawl. Days before killing Matthew Wayne Shepard, a 21-year-old homosexual student at the University of Wyoming, he was awaiting sentencing for burglarizing $2,500 from a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant.
A young man with a short fuse, Aaron had lost his mother around five years ago and received a small inheritance, permitting him to purchase a 1967 Mustang. After his arrest in December 1997 for burglarizing the fast-food chain (KFC), he moved to Florida with his girlfriend, Kristen L. Price. They had a son, Cameron, in July 1998, and the young couple moved returned to Laramie, renting a first-floor apartment in a rundown wooden house. Kristen, a dropout from Laramie High, took care of their baby full-time.
Travis Brin, a former high school classmate of Aaron, recounted an incident in which the emotionally unstable young man confronted a doctor — who had previously treated his mother — at a bar in Laramie. Travis recalled, “He was yelling at this guy, blaming him for his mother’s death. They almost called the cops to get him out of there. After that, I didn’t want to be around him much.” In recent months, Aaron attended a conflict-resolution class in Laramie, suggesting an effort to address his issues.
However, Brendan Murphy, who knew Aaron, disclosed that he had expressed prejudices against both homosexuals and racial minorities. Brendan stated, “He’d (Aaron) say really ignorant things.” Similar to Aaron, Russell A. Henderson left Laramie High School and engaged in various jobs, including roof repair. Before his arrest in October 1998, he had a history of multiple driving offenses and had been convicted of drunken driving twice. He shared a rented trailer with his girlfriend, Chasity V. Pasely.
The couple’s landlord, Sherry Aanenson, who charged them $340 monthly rent, stated, “I perceived Russell as a follower. I have a hard time imagining him coming up with anything like this on his own. It seems extremely out of character, but sometimes people make really bad choices.” Russell’s friends claimed that he did not harbor any hostility towards homosexuals. On the evening of October 6, 1998, Aaron and his high school friend, Russell, drove around Laramie in a pickup truck borrowed from Aaron’s father, Bill.
They stopped at the Fireside, a popular campus hangout, where they scraped together coins to buy a $5.50 pitcher of beer. It was at the bar that they encountered Matthew and lured him to the truck, posing as homosexuals. They took him to a remote spot near the town, where they him to a split rail fence, robbed, pistol-whipped, and tortured him before leaving him to die in freezing temperatures. Following the assault, the two men returned to their respective homes and uttered derogatory comments about homosexuality to their girlfriends.
Laramie police sources stated the two women fabricated an alibi for their boyfriends and disposed of Russell’s clothing in a trash bin, while his bloodied shoes were placed in a storage shed at one of their mother’s flats. Following the assault, Aaron and Russell returned to town and engaged in an altercation with two Hispanic youths who were walking down the street. One of the youths, Emiliano Morales, then 19, recounted an incident where a man, later identified as Aaron, confronted him near a park just after midnight on October 7.
Emiliano explained that his friend, Jeremy Herrara, then 18, had attempted to warn him about the impending attack. He recalled, “Jeremy yelled, ‘He’s got a gun!'” However, the assailant struck him in the head, and Emiliano added, “Jeremy ran up and hit him with a stick, and we took off.” As a result, Emiliano required 21 staples to mend his scalp, although no charges have been brought forth regarding this altercation. Within hours of Matthew’s admission, Aaron was also admitted to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Where Is Russell Henderson Now?
Aaron was admitted four rooms away from Matthew and suffered a hairline fracture of the skull. Meanwhile, the police had already arrested Russell and executed a search of Aaaron’s vehicle. Inside the pickup truck, the officers discovered a firearm smeared with blood and Matthew’s personal belongings, including his shoes and a credit card. Confronted with the evidence, Aaaron confessed to beating and robbing Matthew, and the duo was charged with three counts of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and first-degree attempted murder.
After Matthew died on October 12, the charges were amended to first-degree murder. Since both were eligible for capital punishment, Russell pled guilty to murder and kidnapping charges on April 5, 1999, to avoid going to trial. He also agreed to testify against Aaron to avoid the death penalty, and the judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms. At his April 6 sentencing, his lawyer argued that his client did not target Matthew because he was homosexual. The 46-year-old is serving his sentence at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution.
Where is Aaron McKinney Now?
Aaron’s trial took place in October and November 1999. The prosecution alleged Aaron and Russell pretended to be homosexual to gain Matthew’s trust and entice him into the pickup truck. His girlfriend, Kristen Price, also testified that the duo had “pretended they were gay to get [Matthew] in the truck and rob him.” During his November 1998 pretrial hearing, Sergeant Rob Debree had stated about an October 9 interview where Aaron confessed to attacking Matthew after the latter put his hand on Aaron’s knee.
His defense also attempted to put forward a “gay panic defense”, arguing that Aaron was driven to temporary insanity by the alleged sexual advances. Detective Ben Fritzen also testified that Kristen stated Aaron told her the violence against Matthew was triggered by how he “[felt] about gays.” The judge rejected the defense, and he was found guilty of felony murder. However, his life was saved when Matthew’s parents agreed to deal, and he was sentenced to two life sentences without parole. He, 46, is serving his sentence at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.