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US

Killer of gay student avoids death penalty

McKinney
McKinney, depicted in this sketch at right, plea bargained his sentence to two life terms to avoid the death penalty  

Aaron McKinney sentenced to two life terms

November 4, 1999
Web posted at: 2:47 p.m. EDT (1847 GMT)

LARAMIE, Wyoming (CNN) -- The man convicted of killing gay college student Matthew Shepard has avoided the death penalty in a deal with prosecutors announced in court Thursday. The judge sentenced Aaron McKinney to two life sentences to be served consecutively.

McKinney, 22, was found guilty of felony murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery on Wednesday by jurors who rejected the more serious charge of first-degree murder, which involves premeditation. Felony murder, or murder committed during a felony crime, carries a possible death penalty. Kidnapping and robbery are felonies.

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Judge Barton Voight accepted the plea bargain after prosecutors agreed to drop the felony murder count and McKinney agreed not to appeal the life sentences.

The compromise was announced in court just as the jury was to begin hearing arguments in the penalty phase of the case.

McKinney is the second person sentenced for murder in Shepard's death. A friend of McKinney's, Russell Henderson, 22, pleaded guilty in April and is serving two life sentences.

Prosecutors said McKinney and Henderson, posing as homosexuals, lured Shepard out of a bar, drove him to a remote prairie and pistol-whipped him into a coma. He was found tied to a fence.

Shepard was found some 18 hours afterward, having never regained consciousness. He died in a hospital five days later, on October 12, 1998.

Police said robbery was the main motive for the attack, but that Shepard may also have been singled out because he was gay.



RELATED STORIES:
Jury begins deliberations in Wyoming's gay attack trial
November 2, 1999
Hate crime investigators, prosecutors plot strategies
October 29, 1999
Prosecution rests in Shepard murder trial
October 29, 1999
Girlfriend of Shepard's convicted killer testifies of cover- up
October 28, 1999
Wyoming gay murder case to focus on motives
October 26, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Matthew Shepard Online Resources
THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Hate Crimes
Fighting Hate Across the Nation -- Leadership Conference Education Fund
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