But the 21-year-old Shepard fell victim to a horrific beating just outside the university town that had started to feel like home. Authorities say that Shepard's sexual orientation may have figured in a brutal assault in which the diminutive young man was bound, scarecrow-like, to a wooden fence and left to die.
On or between October 6, 1998, and the early morning hours of October 7, 1998, Russell Henderson, and Aaron McKinney met Matthew Shepard at the Fireside Bar, a campus bar in Laramie, and after the victim had confided to Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson that he was gay, the subjects deceived Matthew Shepard into leaving with them in their vehicle to a remote area near Sherman Hills Subdivision in Albany County, Wyoming Laramie, 30 miles northwest of Cheyenne, telling him they also were gay. En-route to said location, Russell Henderson struck Matthew Shepard in the head with a pistol. Shepard received such a massive blow to the right side of head, that compressed his skull into the brain.
When they arrived at said location both subjects, with premeditated malice, tied their victim to a buck fence with rope and continued to beat him with the butt of a pistol and to terrorize him while he was begging for his life.
They tortured him, burned, and beat him with the butt of a pistol then robbed him. Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney took the victim's credit card, wallet containing cash, his shoes, and other items, and obtained the victim's address in order to later burglarize his home.
The subjects then left the area, driving in a truck owned by Aaron McKinney's father, and leaving their victim for dead.
Two motorcyclists found Shepard tied a wooden fence, after he had been abandoned in near-freezing temperatures for 12 hours. They said he looked "like a scarecrow" because of the way he was positioned on the fence. He was found battered, unconscious and shoeless. Matthew also appeared to have substantial burns on his body and deep cuts on his head and face. Shepard was admitted to the hospital late Wednesday suffering from hypothermia, welts, abrasions and a fractured skull. Shepard was not brain dead but had suffered damage to his brain stem, which controls heartbeat, temperature and other involuntary body functions. Shepard, who was 5-foot-2 and weighs 105 pounds, was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
Both the Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney were later contacted by officers of the Laramie Police Department. Both subjects fled from police officers when contacted, and officers observed a .357 magnum pistol covered with blood in the back of the pickup. Observed inside the cab of the pickup were a credit card and a pair of black patent leather shoes belonging to the victim, Matthew Shepard. Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney told their girl friends to provide an alibi for their whereabouts at the above time and location. The girl friends further stated that the wallet taken from the victim was hidden at the home of Aaron McKinney. The victim, Matthew Shepard, later died from injuries sustained as a direct result of the actions of Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.
The judge read aloud from investigative reports that show prosecutors believe the University of Wyoming political-science major did nothing to provoke the attack except let his eventual assailants know he was gay.
Matthew Shepard was pronounced dead the early morning of October 12th 1998. Shepard had been in a coma since bicyclists found him.