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Death Sought In Gay Attack

Prosecutors said Monday they will seek the death penalty against two men charged with murdering an openly gay University of Wyoming student in a case that focused national attention two months ago on violence against gay people.

CBS Station KCNC-TV in Denver reports that separate statements filed in state district court by Albany County Attorney Cal Rerucha indicate he intends to seek the death penalty against Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both 21, for the murder of Matthew Shepard, who also was 21.

Henderson's trial is set to begin March 22 and McKinney will be tried Aug. 9.

McKinney and Henderson are accused of luring Shepard out of a Laramie bar by pretending they were gay, then robbing and pistol-whipping him and leaving the victim for dead on Oct. 6.

Shepard was found 18 hours later, unconscious and tied to a fence, by a bicyclist who at first mistook his body for a scarecrow. The 105-pound Shepard died of massive head injuries five days later in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

In addition to first-degree murder, McKinney and Henderson are charged with kidnapping and aggravated robbery. Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The brutal attack sparked international outrage and calls from gay and lesbian activists and human rights organizations for state and federal hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation.

Rerucha had been given a Dec. 31 deadline to file an intent to seek the death penalty against the defendants. He declined to say why he sought the death penalty, but Wyoming law allows for capital punishment if a murder was "especially atrocious or cruel, being unnecessarily torturous to the victim."