Shepard vs. Shephard—Why Unnecessary Hate Crimes Laws Deny Equal Protection

All Men Are Created Equal

Everyone has heard of Matthew Shepard, but have you heard of Jason Shephard?

Any Google search on the name “Matthew Shepard” turns up hundreds of thousands of stories written in the ten years since Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered, reportedly, because he was gay. His murder brought national as well as international attention to the issue of hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels.

A story you may not have heard is the case of Jason Shephard, nearly identical in age to Matthew, but who was brutally murdered by a gay man after fighting off his sexual advances. This Shephard is a virtual unknown, having received little, if any coverage in the national media.

Jason was studying to be a teacher.  He was also an athlete, a runner.  Taking a semester off to earn money, he took a job interning for Daktronics Inc., a sound equipment company. His dad said he was excited about the new job and hoped to do well. He had good friends, had no interest in drugs, and as testified in court, had no interest in having sex with other men.

On a three day business trip to Philadelphia, his employer, William Smithson, slipped date rape drug GHB into Jason’s food during a dinner and tried to rape him. Prosecutors said during the trial that 43-year-old William Smithson, frequently had gay sex parties featuring methamphetamine and GHB, and had developed a fatal attraction to Jason.

When Jason, even in his drugged state, rebuffed the attempted rape, Smithson brutally strangled him. As testified in court, Smithson continued his strangulation hold for more than two minutes after Jason’s body quit struggling and lost consciousness to ensure his death. Tipped off by one of Smithson’s former lovers, police found Jason Shephard’s nude body, bound in belts and wrapped in sheets a few days later in Smithson’s basement which also contained a mirrored ceiling, couch and video equipment.

The 40-year-old Smithson was arrested and charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder, attempted rape, abuse of a corpse, aggravated assault, unauthorized administration of an intoxicant and tampering with evidence. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Both Matthew Shepard and Jason Shephard were brutally murdered.  One was gay, murdered by straight men, the other was straight, murdered by a gay man. Both sets of murderers received life in prison, without parole, both got what they deserved, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation.

The Equal Protection Clause secures the promise of the United States’ professed commitment to the proposition that “all men are created equal”. Yet federal hate crimes laws are being rushed into the books based on motives involved specifically in Matthew Shepard’s case because he was a gay man targeted for his sexuality and killed by straight men.

Yet are not these two cases, Shepard and Shephard demonstrating the epitome of equal protection? Why is one being elevated to national furor, while the other is overlooked?

Already society seemingly values the life of one Shepard over the other.  Is it right that the law should also?

Equal is equal, regardless of sexual orientation.  In our abhorrence and rush to judgment, we’re being sold a line that hate crimes bills are necessary to prevent what happened to Matthew Shepard.  But in that rush to judgment, we forget that we cannot be legislated into utopia.  No amount of grandstanding or legislating can prevent people from hurting other people.

The two miserable human beings who killed Matthew Shepard are currently serving life sentences for their crimes – and rightfully so.  That being said, can I ask the obvious question?

Why do we need “hate crimes” legislation to monitor thoughts and intents?  Why can’t actions speak for themselves?

In a society that is increasingly Orwellian in nature, the question that should be asked is not what we have to gain by this hate crimes fiasco, but what we have to lose.

—Beetle Blogger



  1. Brian said,

    May 15, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Both cases are terrible and both deserve severe punishment. I’m torn on this issue. The only difference I can see as related to hate crimes is that sometimes the intent isn’t only to attack a specific person, but rather to attack a group of people. For instance, there was recently a random attack in New York on a man trying to hail a cab. Four men approached him and knocked him to the ground with such force that his head bounced off the pavement. He is now in critical condition and police believe he may have been attacked because he was gay. Such crimes are random and designed to intimidate and scare an entire segment of the population. That is where I can see a difference between crimes, but I still understand what you are saying.

  2. May 15, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I am going to assume you are being truthful, and not purposefully misrepresenting hate crime legislation, and I will explain it to you. Brian has hit upon it, in fact.

    The second Shepard case represents one individual harming another purely for the purposes of harming just that one individual. The gay man in question wasn’t attempting to terrorize all straight men, just that one straight man.

    The case of Mathew Shepard is something different. The attackers admitted that they went after Mathew purely because he was gay. Their intent was to terrorize not only Mathew Shepard, but all gays.

    This is the essence of a hate crime.

    Let us look at another example. In the early 20th century, lynchings were not uncommon in certain areas of the US. If you are not familiar with lynchings, a group of white men would beat and then hang a black man, and leave his corpse up in a public area as an object lesson to all black people to “keep their place.” This strategy was effective. Black people all over the US were too frightened of such actions to even consider asserting themselves for equal rights.

    Hate crimes legislation exists already, and has existed for about 40 years. It currently covers race, religion and country of origin.

  3. rubyeliot said,

    May 15, 2009 at 11:11 am

    also the matthew shepard case wasn’t even a hate crime. it was motivated by drugs.

  4. Chino Blanco said,

    May 15, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Just curious, does anyone actually moderate this place, or are folks like rubyeliot free to come around spreading whatever nonsense they like, assured that nobody will raise a finger (or a question) in response?

  5. beetlebabee said,

    May 15, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Chino B, please. You’re making my sides hurt!

  6. beetlebabee said,

    May 15, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    What about people? Aren’t all people threatened when one person is attacked? Don’t we all lock our doors at night and hope that our family isn’t targeted for robbery or worse?

  7. Chino Blanco said,

    May 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    OK, fair enough, pot-n-kettle and all that, and so I’ll admit your #5 was well played, but I’m still feeling indignant.

    By the way, since we’re actin’ all friendly like, have you checked your spam folder lately?

    And re your #6, what kind of neighborhood do you live in, anyway? Goodness, but it doesn’t sound good.

  8. beetlebabee said,

    May 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm


    I am not sure why, but as far as I can tell, nearly every message you send ends up in the beetlespam folder. You must have quite the spam record somewhere. I fish you out regularly.

    I’m from Los Angeles, crowning glory of the People’s Republic of California. Sounds a little Communist don’t you think? Let me assure you. It is.

    As far as neighborhoods, growing up we left our keys in our cars all the time, never locked our doors, but it’s been a long time since those days were possible.


  9. May 15, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    […] Beetle Blogger: Shepard vs. Shephard — Why Unnecessary Hate Crimes Laws Deny Equal Protection […]

  10. May 15, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    […] Beetle Blogger: Shepard vs. Shephard — Why Unnecessary Hate Crimes Laws Deny Equal Protection […]

  11. May 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    […] Blogger: Shepard vs. Shephard — Why Unnecessary Hate Crimes Laws Deny Equal Protection The Kansas Progress: Special Protection or Special […]

  12. Buffy said,

    May 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Hear, hear! Get rid of those unnecessary hate crimes laws. Lets start with those pesky ones that give religious people special rights.

  13. beetlebabee said,

    May 16, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Buffy, sarcasm aside, are you really against hate crime laws?

  14. Cynthia L. said,

    May 18, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    beetlebabee, I’m sad to see your lack of understanding about what hate crimes laws are, even after the nice explanations in #1 and #2. Maybe a little analogy? Do you think there is a difference between someone spray painting swastikas all over a Jewish place of worship, and someone spray painting their initials all over a street sign? Why or why not? Why might the swastikas be more damaging to society (especially some members of society) than the initials?

  15. Chairm said,

    May 19, 2009 at 7:24 am

    “Their intent was to terrorize not only Mathew Shepard, but all gays.”

    How did you conclude that?

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