The man who wrote the book “The Book of Matt,” which asserted as fact that Matthew Shepard was a methamphetamine dealer and the secret lover of his murderer, hosted a forum on “journalistic accountability” Tuesday in Laramie.
To a packed ballroom of Laramie residents, Jimenez and a panel criticized the “tremendous degradation of reporting” that presented Shepard’s 1998 murder as a black-and-white lynching of a gay man.
Jimenez’s own reporting, however, went unscrutinized by his fellow panelists during the three-hour forum.
When an audience member questioned the credibility of Jimenez’s sources, the author became defensive and cut the man off.
When Jimenez’s book was published in 2013, Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley and then-Undersheriff Rob DeBree described the book as “fiction.”
“As we know it, a lot of things in that book are not true or are incorrect,” O’Malley said at the time.
He said there wasn’t evidence Shepard and McKinney knew each other before the night of the attack that they were involved together in the meth trade.
The book, nevertheless, became a bestseller and provided comfort to Wyomingites who were bothered by Shepard’s murder having led to the Equality State being depicted as homophobic.
The panelists invited to Tuesday’s forum by Jimenez, like former Wyoming Tribune Eagle Editor Reed Eckhardt, expressed confidence in the veracity of Jimenez’s book.
“If this (book) had been presented by my staff, this would have been published in my newspaper,” Eckhardt said.
That panel also included former Laramie Mayor Trudy McCraken, Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin and former St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral priest Chuck Denison.
A few of the panelists took the opportunity to downplay the role of Russell Henderson in Shepard’s murder.
“Why should we be warehousing this individual and why should we not be working to making him a productive member of our community?” Lazin asked.
He claimed Henderson actually tried to stop McKinney from beating Shepard to death.
McCraken, a friend of Henderson’s grandmother, said Henderson was simply “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The forum also included a taped statement, filmed Monday, from Henderson, which presented him as a sympathetic figure. In the statement, the convict serving life in prison again denied Shepard’s sexuality played any role in the murder.
“There have been gay people in my life … that I cared for,” Henderson said. “I can only imagine what they thought when this happened. … It was never about us hating Matthew for who he was.”
Instead of protesting the forum, detractors of author Stephen Jimenez gathered at the Laramie Plains Civic Center for a dance organized as a direct response to the forum.
Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame, who organized the dance entitled “When They Go Low…We Go Dance,” called Jimenez’s narrative “snake oil salesmanship.”
“I think there is some misunderstanding that Jimenez is someone who has an alternative viewpoint,” Burlingame said. “We just read it differently, and it’s important to me that people understand that he is willfully and knowingly lying.”