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Guilty Plea In Gay-Beating Case

Almost six months to the day after he was lashed to a fence and left for dead, the case of Matthew Shepard, the murdered gay University of Wyoming freshman, took a dramatic turn, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara.

Russell Henderson, 21, one of two men facing the death penalty in the Shepard killing, pleaded guilty Monday to murder and kidnapping in exchange for life in prison.

Defense attorney Wyatt Skaggs said, "I know you would love to make this into some sort of hate crime for the politics involved, but it's not."

On the stand, Henderson said robbery was the motive. He said that while he and accomplice Aaron McKinney, 21, lured Shepard from a Laramie bar last October, it was McKinney who robbed and brutally beat Matthew Shepard.

Although Henderson begged forgiveness from the Shepard family, Shepard's mother, in tears, said she hoped Henderson never has a day without the terror, agony and loss she feels. "There'll never be an end," said Judy Shepard, "it'll just be different degrees of acceptance."

Judge Jeffrey Donnell, saying he doubted Henderson's remorse, sentenced him to two consecutive life prison terms. It was the sentence prosecutor Carl Reruca wanted, "It's my hope that Mr. Henderson will die in the Wyoming State Penitentiary, and the only time he leaves the Wyoming State Penitentiary is when they bury him."

McKinney, the other accused killer, with a catalog of minor crime back to his early teens, still faces the death penalty. His trial is scheduled for August.

Henderson's girlfriend is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty Dec. 23 to accessory after the fact. McKinney's girlfriend goes on trial in May also for accessory.

The case has spurred activists on both sides of the gay rights issue.

Earlier Monday, a dozen young people dressed as angels, with white sheets for wings, tried to block from view an anti-gay group demonstrating outside the courthouse.

The angels stood silently, but inside their human wall, about a dozen anti-gay demonstrators from Kansas shouted slogans and waved signs, including one that said "God Hates Fags."

"These... creatures are sending this nation to hell in a hand basket," said the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church.

Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church are the same group that picketed Shepard's funeral in toting anti-gay signs.

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