LARAMIE, Wyo., Oct. 13 -- Charges against two men jailed in the attack on gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard are expected to be upgraded to first-degree murder. Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney could be executed if convicted of the charge stemming from last week's kidnap and savage beating of Shepard, who died early Monday with family members at his side.
Shepard's death came nearly six days after he was pistol-whipped, tortured and lashed to a wooden ranch fence just outside Laramie, Wyo., and left for dead. He was barely alive when two bicyclists found him 18 hours later. The attack has drawn worldwide attention, ranging from e-mail messages to Poudre Valley Hospital where he battled for his life to calls from gay rights advocates and President Clinton for tougher hate crimes laws. The hospital said its Website at times took 30,000 hits per hour from people seeking updates on Shepard's condition. Investigators believe Henderson and McKinney abducted Shepard from Laramie's Fireside lounge and pistol-whipped him because he was gay. Shepard's skull was so severely crushed that his brain stem was irreparably damaged. The suspects' girlfriends, Chastity Pasley and Kristin Price, have been charged as accessories. Price has told investigators and reporters that Shepard was targeted for robbery and assault because he was gay. ---
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