First Shepard Murder Defendant Takes Life Over Death

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One of the two men charged with murdering gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming last October pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping on Monday, and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Russell Henderson, 21, had been charged with first-degree murder in the horrific beating death, a crime punishable by the death penalty. The plea allowed Henderson to live; "It also means the country will be spared another round of acrimony and the Shepard family will be spared the psychological toll of a trial for now," says Howard Chua-Eoan, TIME assistant manager editor. "This outcome does not tell us whether Henderson committed the crime because Shepard was gay or because he wanted to rob him, but it does at least make Henderson admit he was wrong," The move also puts acute pressure on Henderson's codefendant, Aaron McKinney, 21, who faces trial in August, to strike a plea bargain too. If he doesn't, there is much speculation that the prosecution will now seek to make Henderson testify against McKinney.