In May 2003 I met with John Earl Baker, Jr., then forty-two, and several other sources familiar with the local meth scene for a group interview at Laramie's Village Inn restaurant, coincidentally the same restaurant Matthew [Shepard] had visited with a group of college friends on the evening of October 6, 1998, hours before he was attacked.
By the end of the interview Baker confirmed what he had told [defense investigator] Priscilla Moree at the county jail four years earlier: that Aaron [McKinney] had mentioned something to him about a drug deal and "getting dope from Shepard," and that [McKinney's co-worker] Ken Haselhuhn had functioned as an intermediary on the night of the crime.
Prior to Matthew's murder and in the years since, Baker has accumulated a record of meth-related crimes that — if nothing else — demonstrates an exceptional personal knowledge of the drug trade. While his credibility deserves careful scrutiny, his position as a key figure in the Laramie meth scene was confirmed by numerous sources on both sides of the law.
I was also fascinated to discover that several other inmates interviewed by Moree seemed to echo what a close friend of Matthew from the Denver circle had confided about Russell [Henderson's] participation in Aaron's scheme.
"It's possible [Russell] knew something was going to go down, but not the extent of it," Matthew's friend told me.
Ron Golas, who was Aaron's cellmate during part of the time he was incarcerated, told Moree, "Russell did not have anything to do with it at all. He was like a bystander. McKinney was the man who hit him [Shepard]."
A second inmate, John Paul Baker (not to be confused with the aforementioned John Earl Baker, Jr.), stated, "Russell did not do anything...If it wasn't for McKinney, Russell would not have been arrested. Russell did nothing."
And according to a third inmate interviewed by Moree, named Dan O'Connell, "[Henderson] did not have anything to do with it."
While I'd ordinarily be very skeptical of jailhouse sources, I was aware that [prosecutor] Cal Rerucha had also relied on one of Aaron's fellow inmates as a confidential informant, in order to learn about Aaron's conversations at the jail. In addition, two other inmates incarcerated with Aaron and Russell when Moree conducted her interviews in March 1999 were Monty Durand and Chris Baker; both Durand and Baker were friends of Aaron and had extensive knowledge of his meth-dealing activities. In Durand's case, Aaron had attacked him in a fit of anger the night before he attacked Matthew — also over drugs.
Another inmate interviewed by Moree at the Albany County Detention Center (known locally as "ACDC") was Albert Castaneda. Moree's written report on her interview with Castaneda suggests a view of Aaron McKinney at odds with depictions of him as rabidly anti-gay.
"Albert is gay and when McKinney was his cell mate, they talked openly about homosexuality," Moree noted. "McKinney gave him no problems at all...and they got along fine."
Moreover, a high-ranking officer in the Albany County Sheriff's Office, who requested anonymity on the subject of Aaron's sexual orientation, stated that at least two other law enforcement officers had witnessed Aaron engaged in homosexual activity while he was under surveillance. One incident occurred at the jail while he was awaiting trial for Matthew's murder. But on a different occasion long before his arrest, police grew suspicious when they surprised Aaron and a male companion in a parked car one night. The two men were in a deserted "lovers-lane-type area in town" and the vehicle's lights were out.
Did officials write routine reports on those episodes, much as they had documented Matthew's presence at the scene of a mysterious fire several months before he was murdered? If such reports ever existed, were they deliberately expunged from the public record? And why had officials kept silent regarding Aaron's known homosexual activities?
When I posed these questions to several longtime sources, I heard a variety of stories in response. According to a female acquaintance of Aaron, he had "regular appointments" with a former athletic coach in town, who was not only very popular but also closeted. In addition, she said, the coach's brother was a cop in town, so efforts were made to spare the family any embarrassment following Aaron's arrest.
Ted Henson [Matthew's longtime friend and lover] claimed that he and Matthew had run into Aaron in Laramie one day while Aaron was in the company of a gay male friend of Matthew's from the University of Wyoming --John (a pseudonym). Like Matthew, John was active in the gay student group on campus. Ted said that after Aaron and John walked away, "Matt told me, 'They're not boyfriends. Aaron's getting paid for it.'"
But according to Ted, John later became very outspoken about the crime's anti-gay motives, while concealing his personal association with Aaron.
After trying unsuccessfully to contact John by phone and email, I approached him in person at his Laramie office to request an interview. I offered to protect his privacy and not use his name or otherwise identify him, but he politely declined. I had no interest whatsoever in exposing his personal life; I just wanted to know if Ted's allegations were true and whether John had played a part, however small, in covering up the truth about Aaron — and hence the complex truths about Matthew's murder. (A former co-worker of John at the University of Wyoming suggested unconvincingly to me that John may have refused to talk to protect the reputation of the school, which was his alma mater.)
On Tuesday night [October 6, 1998] Aaron and Russell arrived at the Library (bar) between ten and ten thirty. They ordered a pitcher of beer and began drinking; Aaron also got up repeatedly and went to a pay phone to make calls — to Haselhuhn, he claimed.
"I'm not sure how long we were [at the bar] but we drank a couple of pitchers of beer while we were there," according to Russell. He said they "decided to go to — somewhere else besides there" and "we ended up at the Fireside (bar)."
But when asked, "Why did you go to the Fireside that night?" Russell answered, "I don't know exactly why."
Aaron, on the other hand, admitted it was he who picked the bars they went to — and the dealers' homes they visited.
From The Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez. Copyright 2013 by Stephen Jimenez. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.