Our Perception Of Crime Essay

2165 words - 9 pages

People are constantly exposed to crime stories through the internet, television, newspapers, and other mediums. Crime reporting focuses on the criminal acts themselves, the person(s) alleged to have committed the crime, and the victim(s), if any. Heinous crimes, or crimes that shake the delicate fabric of American society, often take center stage in news reporting. Such crimes tend to provoke responsive action from those who feel even remotely affected. The subjective nature of crime reporting leads individuals to either sympathize with a defendant or sympathize with an alleged victim. The brutal attack and murder of Matthew Shepard, in October 1998, is an example of a crime that ...view middle of the document...

Shepard died five days after the attack as a result of the injuries he sustained.
Upon learning of the attack on Shepard, local authorities conducted a criminal investigation. Law enforcement authorities arrested four individuals: Russell A. Henderson, Aaron J. McKinney, Chastity V. Pasley, and Kristen L. Price. According to a CNN news article, authorities alleged that the attack on Shepard was motivated mainly by robbery, but that Shepard had been singled out because of his homosexuality. McKinney and Henderson were charged with the murder of Shepard, while Pasley and Price were charged as accessories after the fact. Henderson pled guilty to First-Degree Murder and Kidnapping, and avoided the death penalty by testifying against McKinney. After a jury trial, McKinney was convicted of Felony Murder, Aggravated Robbery, and Kidnapping. According to Los Angeles Times editor Julie Cart, as the jury deliberated during the death penalty phase of McKinney’s trial, Shepard’s parents brokered a last-minute deal that sent McKinney to prison for the rest of his life, but spared him the death penalty.
Undoubtedly, gay stereotypes were used in the way people characterized or described Shepard. In his statement to the Court during McKinney’s sentencing hearing, Shepard’s father described his son as “small for his age-weighing, at the most, 110 pounds, and standing only 5’2” tall. He was rather uncoordinated and wore braces from the age of 13 until the day he died.” Shepard was depicted as weak, fragile, and feminine in physicality. Indeed, news sources characterized Shepard as a “soft-spoken 21 year-old who became an overnight symbol of deadly violence against gay people.” Brooke’s statements relate to the findings of scholars investigating gay stereotypes in America. After conducting an experiment on undergraduate students in the United States, Aaron J. Blashill and Kimberly K. Powlishta found that the participants often cited behavior such as walking like a girl, appearing feminine, being emotional, and having a soft voice, as indicators that such person was homosexual. As a homosexual, Shepard was depicted as weak and incapable of fighting off two masculine men.
Gay prejudices existed during Shepard’s lifetime. The fact that McKinney sought to present a “gay panic” defense at his trial is evidence of the overarching anti-gay sentiment present in society during the time of Shepard’s death. The “gay panic” defense that McKinney’s attorneys sought to introduce during trial, but was rejected by the Court, suggested that McKinney had a “violent reaction” when “propositioned by a homosexual.” In other words, McKinney’s attorneys sought to argue that Shepard was a sexual deviant who made “unwanted sexual advances” toward McKinney, and that such advances caused McKinney to panic and result to murder. Homophobia was still an open issue during the 1990s, especially since the Stonewall Riots took place approximately thirty years...

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