CBS, NBC Ignore Expansion of Hate Crime Laws; ABC's Gibson Claims Matthew Shepard was Murdered 'Because He was Gay'

While CBS and NBC ignored yesterday's expansion of the federal definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, ABC's Charlie Gibson reported it, explaining that the amendment was “named for Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student killed 11 years ago because he was gay.”

It's true that the amendment, attached to a defense spending bill, was named for Shepard but Gibson ignored his own network's investigation of the Shepard case that revealed sexual orientation was not the sole motive behind his murder.

ABC's “20/20” investigation in 2004 found that drugs fueled Shepard's brutal murder, not homophobia, as is widely believed. Aaron Mickinney, who fatally assaulted Shepard, told ABC he was high on methamphetamine during the attack and it was the drugs that sparked his rage, not Shepard's sexual orientation.

Anchor Elizabeth Vargas reported that Shepard's friends promoted the idea that Shepard's sexuality was the key factor in his murderer's attack. “Just hours after Matthew was discovered at the fence, and before anyone knew who had beaten him, Walt Boulden and Alex Trout, friends of Shepard, began spreading the word that Matthew may have been attacked because he was gay.

Cal Rerucha, the prosecutor in the case, confirmed Vargas' words. “They [Shepard's friends] were calling the county attorney's office. They were calling the media and indicating, “Matthew Shepard is gay, and we don't want the fact that he is gay to go unnoticed,” he stated.

Rerucha also told ABC he didn't “think the proof [of a hate crime] was there” and “it something [Shepard's friends] had decided.”

Ben Fritzen, a former police detective and one of the lead investigators on the case, told Vargas it was drugs and money that motivated the attack on Shepard.

“Matthew Shepard's sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn't the motive in the homicide. If it wasn't Shepard, they would have found another easy target. What it came down to, really, is drugs and money and two punks that were out looking for it,” he told ABC.

Despite what law enforcement had to say about the murder, Shepard's friend Walt insisted to ABC, “I know in the core of my heart it happened because he revealed he was gay. And it's chilling. They targeted him because he was gay.”

Shepard's death was a terrible tragedy, and nobody deserves the treatment he received that night. But to ignore evidence that indicated the motives behind his murder were more than pure homophobia to push a political agenda is irresponsible.

For more on the consequences of hate crime laws on free speech, click here.

Like this article? Sign up for "Culture Links," CMI's weekly e-mail newsletter, by clicking here.