A call to boycott ABC television

This via a friend in New York City

Dear Friends,

Almost four years ago, in preparing to write the script for “The Matthew Shepard Story” for NBC, I traveled with friend and co-writer, Jacob Krueger, to Casper, Wyoming to interview Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s mom and dad. If anyone had justifiable claim to bitterness, it would be the Shepards, given the gruesome, widely-reported murder of their child. But we found them generous, gracious and unflinchingly honest in the face of questions that were hard enough to ask, let alone answer. Those qualities and the pain any parent feels for others who’ve lost a child, however, aren’t what seared the Shepards into my heart forever. It was their extraordinary act of mercy.

For those of you who may not know, Matthew – a 21-year-old, openly gay student at the University of Wyoming – was tied to a fence in a remote location outside of Laramie and beaten to death with a pistol by two young men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. Only one of the murderers, Aaron McKinney, was ever brought to trial for the killing; Russell Henderson pleaded guilty in exchange for two life sentences without parole. McKinney was found guilty of two separate counts of first degree murder and faced what many thought to be a likely death sentence. But prior to the sentencing phase of the trial, Judy and Dennis showed uncommon mercy to this young man who refused to show mercy to their son when he begged for his life.

They bypassed vengeance, no small degree of closure, and what many would consider justice and persuaded prosecuting attorney, Cal Rerucha, to abandon pursuit of the death penalty. I want to share with you an excerpt of the address made to the court and to Aaron McKinney by Dennis Shepard on the final day of proceedings.

Matt officially died at 12:53 AM on Monday, October 12, 1998 in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence that Wednesday before when you beat him. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, killed my son…

You left him out there by himself but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him, friends he had grown up with… the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope… the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time, one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming… the smell of Wyoming sage brush and the scent of pine trees from the Snowy Range…

He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday School and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God. I feel better knowing that he wasn’t alone…

I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt…

Mr. McKinney, I’m going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday or the fourth of July, remember that Matthew isn’t… You robbed me of something very precious and I will never forgive you for that. Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.

In exchange for two consecutive life sentences, the murderer, in consult with his attorneys, agreed to waive all rights of appeal and “to refrain from talking to any news media organizations” regarding the criminal case against him. The Shepard family, said Judy, “would never have to hear from him again.”

Now the unfortunate point of this letter. I beg your patience just a moment longer.

ABC News program, 20/20, recently announced it will be airing an interview with Aaron McKinney the Friday following Thanksgiving, November 26th, in blatant disregard for the agreement struck between the killer and the Shepards. No doubt, there will be more unnecessary pain inflicted upon Judy and Dennis, but the most disappointing part of the decision – at least in my opinion – is the casual dismissal of the Shepard’s exemplary act of mercy.

The recent election may have exposed a significant divide among Americans on many issues, among them homosexuality. But I’m confident we still agree on many things, including these three:

1) that murder is wrong (Exodus 20:13)

2) that violating a promise or an oath is wrong  (Numbers 30:2)

3) and that showing mercy is good (Matthew 5:7)

Please join me in affirming these basic human values by:

1)   sending an e-mail to the producers of 20/20 at 2020@abc.com urging them not to air the McKinney interview. You can copy this message into your e-mail if you like:

“I stand with Judy and Dennis Shepard, urging you to recognize the greement embraced by Aaron McKinney and his lawyers at the time of his sentencing, which, in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death enalty, prohibited Mr. McKinney from talking to any news media rganizations regarding the criminal case against him. Please do not air the McKinney/Henderson segment or any part of it, scheduled for November 26th, 2004. Sincerely, (Your name).

2) Should 20/20 go ahead with plans to air the interview, don’t tune in. Instead, make plans to use the hour affirming the Shepard’s act of mercy with smaller acts of your own… like volunteering locally or writing a check to your favorite helping organization.

3) Lastly, forward this e-mail to as many people as you can. The more pressure brought to bear on ABC, the better.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

John Wierick

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