Man Convicted in ’Date Rape Drug’ Gay Murder
The tragic death of a 23-year-old business intern named Jason Shephard at the hands of convicted killer William Smithson has been seized upon and exploited by right-wing Web publications declaring the case to be "Matthew Shepard in reverse," denouncing hate crimes legislation, and demanding that the mainstream media play up the story.
The details of the case are shocking. Pennsylvania resident William Smithson, who worked for scoreboard manufacturing company Daktronics, allegedly was in the habit of hosting sex parties at his home, with drugs playing a role in the proceedings.
In 2006, when Smithson met Shephard, a young Daktronics intern from the Midwest, he reportedly made sexual advances toward the young man that Shephard rejected.
Then, according to prosecutors in the court case that ended with Smithson’s conviction and a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Smithson slipped the young man a date rape drug and attempted to sexually violate him. In the process, Smithson strangled Shepard, murdering him.
Smithson subsequently filed a missing persons report on Shephard, and even met the young man’s parents at the airport--all while Shephard’s corpse lay wrapped in sheets in Smithson’s basement.
Upon Smithson’s arrest, Shephard’s body was discovered, along with a tarp, indicating that Smithson was on the verge of disposing of the body.
The court was told by Shephard’s former girlfriend that the young man was a clean-living sort who would never have agreed to take drugs.
The ex-girlfriend also testified that Shephard would not have been amenable to advances from gay men.
Pennsylvania newspaper The Daily Local reported in a Nov. 22 story that the prosecution told the court that Shephard’s death resulted from an attempt at "rape gone wrong," and dismissed the defense’s claim that the crime had been carried out by a third man, Fen Bruce Covington, who allegedly had supplied drugs to Smithson the evening of Shephard’s murder, and who was in the house at the time of the young man’s death.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lawrie rejected that hypothesis, stating, "There’s no one else involved in the killing. He’s it," meaning Smithson, whose home Lawrie described as a "domicile of degradation" where methamphetamine-fueled sex parties took place.
The article quoted Lawrie as saying that, "Jason Shephard fell into the nightmare of [Smithson’s] life" and died as a result.
Smithson was found guilty on all counts, which included an array of offenses on top of the first-degree murder charge. The convict could have received the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison.
Media stories described the testimony of grieving father Kyle Shephard, who talked about his son’s good qualities and said that he and his son had spoken on the phone every day up until the young man’s disappearance.
Conservative Christian Web site OneNewsNow devoted a few sentences to the gruesome, sexually charged nature of the crime in a Dec 2 article, foregoing further mention of the young man or his family, save to compare Shephard’s death to that of Matthew Shepard, and to report that "a pro-family activist," Diane Gramley, had raised questions as to why the mainstream media did not publicize the killing more widely.
Gramley, the president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Family Association, contrasted Jason Shephard’s murder with that of Matthew Shepard, who was robbed, beaten, and left to die by assailants outside Laramie, Wyoming, ten years ago.
Matthew Shepard died in a hospital five days after he was discovered in the rural Wyoming countryside, unconscious and tied to a fence. The severe beating he suffered, and the robbery that accompanied the beating, were both hallmarks of anti-gay bias crimes.
The ABC News program 20/20 claimed in a 2004 television report that Shepard’s killing was not a bias crime at all, but merely a robbery that veered into violence and death because the perpetrators, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were addicts who were primed for acts of violence by their need for drugs.