Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh made tne bizarre claim on Monday that Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 murder led to a federal hate crime law in the US, was not killed because he was gay.
Limbaugh was discussing the return to the NBA of Jason Collins who wears the number 98 on his uniform in honor of Shepard and the year he was murdered.
In introducing a clip of Collins taking the court for the Brooklyn Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers, Limbaugh in an unorganized sentence said: 'Jason Coll(ins) - who by the way took number 98 in solidarity with Matthew Shepard, who was, it's now been proven didn't happen, but reputed to have beaten up by a bunch of anti-gay bigots.'
(Collins on Sunday (23 February) became the first openly gay player to play for the NBA)
Shepard, a 21 year old college student, died after being tortured in a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson each received two consecutive life sentences for his murder.
The prosecutor in the case alleged that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard's trust so they could later rob him.
McKinney originally pleaded the gay panic defense, arguing that he and Henderson were driven to temporary insanity by alleged sexual advances by Shepard.
After meeting Shepard at a bar, the pair took him to a remote area outside of Laramie. Once there they robbed him, beat him severely, and tied him to a fence with a rope from McKinney's truck while Shepard pleaded for his life.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which allows for added charges and harsher jail sentences for those convicted of what is deemed to be a hate crime, a crime against somebody’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It also means the federal government could step in to prosecute in states that request it or in those who choose not to prosecute.
Shepard's memory lives on in large part through the tireless activism of his mother Judy Shepard who founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation after her son’s death.
Limbaugh's comments likely stem from a book released last year by Stephen Jimenez which alleged that Shepard being gay was not a major motive for the crime.
Hat Tip: Media Matters