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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK

World: Americas

Life for killer of gay student

The murder of Matthew Shepard has become a focus for gay protests

One of the two men charged with killing gay student Matthew Shepard has been sentenced to two life terms after admitting his role in the attack.

Katty Kay reports from Washington
Russell Henderson, 21, pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping in exchange for two life sentences instead of the death penalty.

"I hope you never experience a day or night without experiencing the terror, humiliation, hopelessness and helplessness my son felt that night," Matthew Shepard's mother Judy told her son's killer.

[ image: Russell Henderson (left) and Aaron McKinney - charged with first degree murder]
Russell Henderson (left) and Aaron McKinney - charged with first degree murder
Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty for Henderson and another man, Aaron McKinney, who goes on trial in August.

BBC correspondents say the prosecutors appeared determined not to let Mr Shepard's homosexuality become an issue in the trial.

Despite these attempts, there were protests outside the courthouse in Laramie, Wyoming, from pro- and anti-gay activists who say the attack shows the need for new legislation.

Gay activists also turned the desolate hill where the attack occurred into a pilgrimage site.

Horrific crime

Prosecutors say Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney lured Shepard from a Laramie bar, pistol-whipped him and tied him to a fence on a country road in sub-freezing temperatures.

[ image: Matthew Shepard - left to die in sub-zero temperatures]
Matthew Shepard - left to die in sub-zero temperatures
Mrs Shepard described arriving at the hospital to find her son so badly beaten that the only feature still recognisable on his head was a distinctive bump on his ear.

Mr Shepard died five days later in hospital.

Judge Jeffrey Donnell, passing a sentence which appeared to rule out any possibility of parole, said he felt Henderson did not realise the horrific nature of his crime.

"Quite frankly the court does not believe you really feel a true remorse for your role in this matter," Judge Donnell said.

The brutal attack has thrown the spotlight on the small town of Laramie as a focus for attention on hate crimes and anti-gay violence in the US.

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Internet Links

Letters for Matt: University of Wyoming Newspaper

University of Wyoming: Benefit Fund for Matthew Shepard

State Governor Jim Geringer's Statement on the murder

Matthew Shepard Online Memorial

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