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Death Penalty in Shepard Case Slammed by Activists

'Let Matthew Shepard's Killer's Live!' Says Queer Watch

Prominent Gay Groups are Silent about Call for Execution

Compiled By GayToday

shepelecchair.gif - 26.22 K San Francisco, California--Gay activists are condemning a Wyoming prosecutor's announcement last week to seek the death penalty against two men charged in the tragic death of gay student Matthew Shepard.

The activists also denounced the continuing silence of prominent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organizations about capital punishment as this highly charged murder case unfolds.

Shepard was killed last October in Laramie, Wyoming. His brutal death drew worldwide attention and provoked thousands of memorial candlelight vigils, rallies and marches to protest anti-gay violence.

Members of Queer Watch, a gay grassroots group, fear the heated emotions surrounding Shepard's killing have driven some gay people to seek revenge, rather than justice. Wyoming has a death penalty law on the books.

"Putting anyone to death for the murder of Shepard is just as barbaric as tying the victim to a fence post and leaving him to die in sub--zero temperatures," said Queer Watch member Michael Petrelis in San Francisco. "The defendants deserve a fair trial. And if convicted of this heinous crime, they must be punished."

Not one mainstream gay organization has deplored the actions of prosecutor Cal Rerucha since he filed notices to seek the death penalty. Defendants Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney face possible execution if they are convicted of murdering Shepard.

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So far, silence has been the only response from the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and a host of gay anti-violence groups who have used the Shepard killing for political and fundraising purposes.

"The silence of these gay groups may equal death for the alleged killers. If they are convicted and sentenced to die, that will not bring Matthew Shepard back to life," said Bill Dobbs, a Queer Watch member in New York. "Executions can not cure hatred of homosexuals in America. Capital punishment only accomplishes revenge."

Queer Watch member Jim Eigo said, "Capital punishment is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. When the state disregards human rights, it is the rights of marginal groups, like gay people, that are most often violated. The failure of mainstream gay rights groups to publicly oppose capital punishment is ultimately a failure to fight for the protection of the rights of gay people as well."

Queer Watch demands all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations quickly and publicly oppose the prosecutor's call for the death penalty in the Shepard case. These groups must stand with the broader, progressive coalition in the struggle to end capital punishment. "Anything less," said Bill Dobbs, "is tantamount to killing in the name of the gay community."

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