CBS Uses Matthew Shepard Murder to Push Hate Crimes Legislation

Maggie Rodriguez and Judy Shepard, CBS While commemorating the tenth anniversary of the beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard, on Monday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez wondered: "Since then, there's been outcry for tougher laws, but how much progress has been made?" Correspondent Thalia Assuras then reported: "The Human Rights Campaign here in Washington D.C. is the largest gay rights advocacy group in the country...Campaign president Joe Solomnese says more must be done to change attitudes...And more must be done to enact laws. Wyoming is among 19 states that still don't address hate crimes based on sexual orientation, something Matthew's family and friends are still working to change." No opponents of hate crimes legislation were featured in the segment.

Following Assuras’s report, co-host Maggie Rodriguez interview mother of Matthew Shepard, Judy Shepard. Rodriguez asked if the men responsible for the murder showed any remorse, Shepard replied: "...they actually wonder still why they're in such trouble for what they did, just, you know, killing a young gay man. They were -- the environment was set up for them that it was okay to do that to Matt." Rodriguez followed up: "And do you still find that kind of attitude as pervasive as it was then or have you seen positive changes in the last ten years?" Shepard then explained:

Oh, there's definitely been positive changes and for a lot of reasons. Theatrical productions, literature, television, novels, movies, all portray the gay community in a very positive forward-thinking way and that has really helped. People understand the gay community. The level of ignorance is just -- it's amazing that people just don't know more about the civil rights that are being denied the gay community and we're moving forward and working at the grassroots level now trying to really educate people and make them aware of the gay community.

Rodriguez then turned back to the lack of hate crimes legislation: "And there are more hate crime laws in many states but not in Wyoming where this crime took place. Does that surprise you?" Shepard replied: "I'd like to say yes it surprises me, but no it doesn't. Wyoming has no hate crime law at all for people. I think is one of four states left with no hate crime legislation at all. Wyoming had the perfect opportunity to actually set the tone, set the example, just to be what every state should've been had that happened in their state and they didn't take advantage of it."

However, earlier in the interview, Rodriguez asked Shepard: "I know that the two men responsible for Matthew's death are serving two consecutive life sentences. Do you think that punishment fit the crime?" Shepard acknowledged: "We do. We are very satisfied that justice was done. We -- there was absolutely no doubt that it was those two men. Both confessed so it was, you know, their paying the price for the decisions they made." That despite a lack of hate crimes legislation in Wyoming.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:30AM TEASER:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Also ahead this morning, we are remembering Matthew Shepard. This is the college student who was beaten to death because he was gay ten years ago. This morning on the anniversary of that beating, we have an exclusive interview with Matthew's mother.

7:31AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: It was a hate crime that outraged the country. The murder of college student Matthew Shepard a decade ago. Since then, there's been outcry for tougher laws, but how much progress has been made? CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports.

THALIA ASSURAS: The beating death of 21-year-old Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was so brutal that a description of his injuries even a decade later is hard to listen to.

RULON STACEY: His head trauma consisted of a massive blow to the right side of his head. It fractured his skull from behind his head in a horizontal fashion to in front of his right ear.

ASSURAS: On the night of October 6th, 1998, Matthew left the Fireside bar in Laramie, Wyoming with Aaron McKinny and Russell Henderson. The next morning he was found tortured and battered tied to a fence. The biker who discovered him thought he was a scare crow. Matthew Shepard died five days later.

DENNIS SHEPARD: We'll never forget the love that the world has shared with this kind, loving son.

ASSURAS: Across the nation Matthew was mourned in candlelight vigils. The Human Rights Campaign here in Washington D.C. is the largest gay rights advocacy group in the country. Citing FBI statistics, the organization says that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are among the most prevalent, behind only those connected to race and religion.

JOE SOLOMNESE: We have to find increasing ways to try to address this violence.

ASSURAS: Campaign president Joe Solomnese says more must be done to change attitudes.

JOE SOLOMNESE: What I think needs to happen in terms of addressing hate based violence against our community is not just the kind of legislative efforts that we're making, but really addressing this at its root, you know, in schools, among young people.

ASSURAS: And more must be done to enact laws. Wyoming is among 19 states that still don't address hate crimes based on sexual orientation, something Matthew's family and friends are still working to change.

RODRIGUEZ: Joining us now from Washington is Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard. Good morning, Judy and thank you for being here on such a hard day.

JUDY SHEPARD: Good morning. Thank you. It's my pleasure.

RODRIGUEZ: What is this day like for you year after year, Judy?

SHEPARD: You know, this whole week is just remembrances and it's a great sadness and sense of confusion, of loss. We've actually tried to address issues that haven't changed, as Joe was saying earlier. It's been ten years, why haven't things progressed further than they have?

RODRIGUEZ: Can you take us back to that day, ten years ago when you got the phone call that Matthew had been beaten? What's the first thing that crossed your mind?

SHEPARD: Well, I think Dennis and I both thought that he'd been -- well, actually, we didn't really know what had happened. The circumstances and the facts were not known, but when we did find out that he'd been actually beaten, my first thought was it had happened because he was gay. You're just conditioned to think that that's going to happen, that because someone's sexual orientation is different, that other people will hate them, will hurt them.

RODRIGUEZ: Is that a hate? Is that a struggle that he lived with in his life?

SHEPARD: You know, if he did, he didn't share it with us. We didn't -- weren't aware if he was ever harassed verbally before. We don't think he was physically, but we're not -- we don't know about verbally.

RODRIGUEZ: I know that the two men responsible for Matthew's death are serving two consecutive life sentences. Do you think that punishment fit the crime?

SHEPARD: We do. We are very satisfied that justice was done. We -- there was absolutely no doubt that it was those two men. Both confessed so it was, you know, their paying the price for the decisions they made.

RODRIGUEZ: Do you know if they ever showed any remorse?

SHEPARD: To my knowledge, they have not. I'm pretty sure that they actually wonder still why they're in such trouble for what they did, just, you know, killing a young gay man. They were -- the environment was set up for them that it was okay to do that to Matt.

RODRIGUEZ: And do you still find that kind of attitude as pervasive as it was then or have you seen positive changes in the last ten years?

SHEPARD: Oh, there's definitely been positive changes and for a lot of reasons. Theatrical productions, literature, television, novels, movies, all portray the gay community in a very positive forward-thinking way and that has really helped. People understand the gay community. The level of ignorance is just -- it's amazing that people just don't know more about the civil rights that are being denied the gay community and we're moving forward and working at the grassroots level now trying to really educate people and make them aware of the gay community.

RODRIGUEZ: And there are more hate crime laws in many states but not in Wyoming where this crime took place. Does that surprise you?

SHEPARD: I'd like to say yes it surprises me, but no it doesn't. Wyoming has no hate crime law at all for people. I think is one of four states left with no hate crime legislation at all. Wyoming had the perfect opportunity to actually set the tone, set the example, just to be what every state should've been had that happened in their state and they didn't take advantage of it.

RODRIGUEZ: Judy, are those pins that you're wearing somehow related to this at all?

SHEPARD: You know, Matt was a very -- a big fan of Native American art, Native American Indian art and this pin is one that reminds me very much of one he gave me many years ago that I have subsequently lost, so when I saw this, I had to have it.

RODRIGUEZ: Judy Shepard, thank you so much for your time this morning.

SHEPARD: Thank you very much.

RODRIGUEZ: Our pleasure.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC