Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 06:42 GMT
Gay student murder trial begins
Matthew Shepard was left for dead, tied to a fence
A prosecutor asked prospective jurors to set aside their emotions if chosen to try a 21-year-old man charged with murdering a gay student in a small western American town.
Prosecutor Cal Rerucha also said to the 71 members of the jury pool that although slain student Matthew Shepard was "different, a victim that was not the same as you and I," that the Constitution requires all people to be treated fairly under the law.
The statement came at the start of the trial of Russell Henderson, 21, one of two men charged in the murder. He is also charged with kidnapping and aggravated robbery.
Both Mr Henderson and his co-defendant, Aaron McKinney, also 21 years old, both face the death penalty if convicted.
Opening statements in Mr Henderson's trial are expected to begin April 6. Mr McKinney will be tried later.
Murder sparked protest
Mr Shepard was left for dead in freezing temperatures and died in hospital later. His skull was so badly fractured that doctors said surgery was not an option.
Police believe that Mr Henderson and Mr McKinney posed as homosexuals to lure Matthew Shepard to his death in the small Wyoming town of Laramie.
Both men could be given the death penalty if convicted. McKinney's trial is scheduled to begin in August.
Focus for protest
President Bill Clinton and many others have spoken out about the threat posed by groups peddling homophobia as well as race hatred.
The beating to death of Mr Shepard placed a particularly harsh spotlight on the small town of Laramie.
The victim was a student at the University of Wyoming in the town. According to gay rights activists, the killing was symptomatic of an undercurrent of intolerance in America's rural West.