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Saturday, May 08, 2004

Matthew Shepard Killer Seeks Lighter Sentence For Hate Crime

Matthew Shepard
(Cheyenne, Wyoming) One of the men convicted of murdering Matthew Shepard five years ago should not be given a chance to argue for a lighter sentence the Wyoming Attorney General has told a court.

In a bid to avoid the death penalty, Russell Henderson pleaded guilty murder and kidnapping in Shepard's death and received two consecutive life terms without parole.

Last month Henderson filed a petition alleging the state's appellate lawyers "failed even to consult with (Henderson) regarding any of his rights as provided by law following a guilty plea."

The petition also said Henderson should be allowed to argue that his sentence was disproportionate to others serving time for similar crimes.

It argues that if the court finds Henderson was denied effective assistance that a one-year clock be restarted for filing a request for sentence reduction.

In a brief filed with the court Friday the state said that the petition should be dismissed. The brief, prepared by Assistant Attorney General Melissa Swearingen said that Henderson fails to offer claim of error in the conviction process. That relief can come only when there is a strong suggestion of a miscarriage of justice, she wrote.

She also pointed out that Henderson pleaded guilty with no strings attached and understood he wouldn't be allowed to withdraw the plea if sentencing didn't go the way he wanted.

"The petition should be dismissed … because the ultimate relief Mr. Henderson is seeking is simply not available under Wyoming statute," Swearingen wrote.

The second man convicted of Shepard's murder, Aaron McKinney, is serving two life sentences for the killing.

During their trial the court heard that Henderson and McKinney, both 21 at the time, kidnapped, pistol-whipped, robbed and left Shepard tied to a fence outside Laramie in October 1998. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student died five days later at a hospital from massive head injuries.

Henderson maintained that he had only driven the car and tied Shepard to the fence but that it was McKinney who beat Shepard.

© Associated Press

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