Former Albany Co. Coroner: Matt Shepard Death Was Hate Crime; Not Drug-Related
Casper native Matthew Shepard died of blunt force trauma, had injuries on his genitals and no methamphetamine in his body, according to the former Albany County Coroner who conducted the autopsy of the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in October 1998.
"It does feel good in being able to say that I honestly believe it is a, was a hate crime, but I'd just like to put out there I think everybody knows this was a hate crime," Julie Heggie told Wyoming Public Media reporter Melodie Edwards on Friday.
"People are lying to themselves if they believe this is not a hate crime," Heggie said.
In other words, Shepard's murder was not about a perceived drug debt, and that Shepard was bringing methamphetamine to Laramie from Colorado, and then Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed him as some have claimed.
On Oct. 6, 1998, McKinney and Henderson lured Shepard from a bar in Laramie into a pickup; they said they were going to rob him; as they were driving, Shepard put his hand on McKinney's lap and McKinney reacted, according to court records.
They beat him and tied him to a buck and rail fence outside of town. He was found the next day, taken to a hospital in Fort Collins where he died on Oct. 12.
McKinney and Henderson are serving two consecutive life sentences.
Authorities returned the case to Albany County, Heggie said.
The Albany County Attorney, law enforcement, and Hegge agreed the autopsy only should be released by the County Attorney's Office, Heggie said.
Wyoming Public Radio filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the autopsy report, and Edwards said this marked the first interview of Heggie.
Sensitivity, accuracy and thoroughness were paramount as Heggie conducted the autopsy, she said. "Being a lesbian myself, I was very conscious of what I was going into."
The autopsy said the cause of death multiple injuries from blunt trauma to the head and face.
"It was horrific, quite frankly," Heggie said. "I had not seen a beating of this magnitude."
"There was a lot of bruising on Matthew's body, and most specifically bruising in the genital region," she said. "To me, that just brings a lot of red flags up, in that somebody did endure that type of treatment or pain and then later the beating he had to have endured."
The bruising on the genital region was not from being kicked while he was tied to the fence but from hands, Heggie said. "I would say it was more hands and fingers; it seemed more likely that the bruising took place possibly while he was detained. So I think maybe some grabbing and that sort of thing... In my opinion, had to be quite forceful, too."
Shepard may have had some anti-depressants, possible marijuana and alcohol in his system, but the alcohol level didn't seem extraordinary, Heggie said.
Furthermore, the toxicology report indicated no hard drugs in his system including methamphetamine, cocaine, or opioids.
Heggie visited with Shepard's mother Judy to help her before the funeral in Casper, she said.
She has not had contact with the Shepard family since then, she said.
On Friday, the Shepard family had his ashes interred in the Washington National Cathedral.