Gay Author Stephen Jimenez rewrites the life story of Matthew Shepard, based on hearsay evidence, unverifiable claims, and poorly researched facts, in his newly published book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.
by Roy Steele
During seminal moments in our nation’s history, there are events that are seared in our minds, because of the circumstances surrounding both triumphs and tragedies, and the impact these events have on our collective conscience.
Older folks talk about where they were when John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, were assassinated, and will mention the palpable excitement they felt when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I learned that John Lennon was tragically murdered, and Ronald Reagan was senselessly shot. I vividly remember waking up to get ready for work, and turning on the news, to hear that our nation was under attack, as I watched the first tower at the World Trade Center collapse in front of my eyes on 9/11.
When the USA hockey team beat the odds and defeated the Russians during the Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid (the miracle on ice), and Barack Obama was elected as our first African-American president, I felt incredibly proud and patriotic, and was elated and overjoyed, by the distinctly American values reflected in these historical events.
In 1998, I was living in the vibrant and verdant rolling hills of Surrey, in England. I sat at my desk and was skimming the news online, when I first read about the grisly homicidal attack on Matthew Shepard, in Laramie, Wyoming. Matthew was still alive and on life support, and news of the brutal assault was featured on the front page of the BBC News website. When I read the story, I sat at my computer and sobbed.
The impact of Matthew Shepard’s brutal assault wasn’t limited to just the United States, and the reverberations were felt around the world. Because I was living overseas, I didn’t hear much about the day to day political rhetoric, though I was acutely aware of the candlelight vigils and protests that were being held throughout the US.
I remember the day that Matthew Shepard died, and felt like a little part of me died that day too.
It was just two weeks ago that I learned that Stephen Jimenez had written a book about Matthew Shepard and his assailants. When I saw the title of the book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, I was slightly taken aback. “Hidden Truths” infers that there was a cover up, and that the public doesn’t have all the facts and we don’t know the whole story.
I went to my local independent bookstore and bought The Book Of Matt. It was an easy read, and it took me two and a half days to finish it.
The book has generated controversy in the gay community, because Jimenez claims that Shepard’s murder wasn’t an anti-gay hate crime. He claims that the murder was related to a drug deal gone wrong, and that Aaron McKinney and Matthew Shepard were drug traffickers who were well acquainted with each other.
The author alleges that McKinney and Shepard were occasional sex partners, and says that the convicted murderers were convicted of committing hate crimes in the court of public opinion, but not in a court of law, and that the public got it wrong because of the numerous erroneous facts widely disseminated by the media.
Jimenez makes spurious claims that the police did a poor job investigating the crime, and accused Dennis and Judy Shepard, Matthew’s parents, of colluding with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), to craft their courtroom statements.
There were two defendants charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, and the only thing that Jimenez seems to have gotten right is the fact that Russell Henderson was railroaded into accepting a plea bargain in order to avoid a death penalty sentence, and a lengthy and expensive trial.
There is ample evidence that Henderson was an accessory to the murder, and was complicit in a cover up, and he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, without possibility of parole, just like Aaron McKinney. I don’t feel that justice was served by sentencing Henderson to life imprisonment, and am curious whether anyone else feels that way too.
The media did sensationalize this heinous crime, and in retrospect, there might have been numerous errors in reporting the facts, because the official records and police reports were off limits to reporters for a year, in order to ensure that Aaron McKinney received a fair trial.
Jimenez cites over one hundred sources in a list at the end of the book, though he doesn’t indicate when these interviews occurred, and whether they were recorded or not. The most explosive and inflammatory revelations come from individuals who are anonymous, whose statements can’t be verified for accuracy or truth.
When I finished reading the book I had more questions about the motives behind Stephen Jimenez accusations and revelations, than I did about the circumstances surrounding this heinous hate crime.
Jimenez failed to tell a true and compelling story on several fronts, and chief among them was that the book is largely speculative, and I just didn’t buy his thesis.
There are two protagonists that are central to this tragedy. Matthew Shepard can’t speak because he’s dead, and Aaron McKinney won’t speak to Jimenez, because he doesn’t trust him.
The author didn’t deliver on his promise to reveal any new facts or hidden truths, though he did write a middling work of fiction.
straight talk in a queer world.
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