Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year old student at the University of Wyoming, was lured from a bar, pistol whipped, tied to a fence and left in the freezing cold for 18 hours.
Monday the trial of Aaron McKinney, the second of two men accused of Shepard's murder begins in Laramie, Wyoming. In April, the first defendant, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to avoid a possible death sentence. He is expected to testify against McKinney, accusing him of planning the attack and striking the deadly blows.
In a radio interview, McKinney -- who allegedly pretended to be gay to entice Shepard to leave the bar -- denies he was motivated by hate. "I don't hate anybody because of their race or sexual preference or religion or anything like that," he said. "I don't discriminate against anybody."
On Saturday night, the families of Shepard and James Byrd, a black man who was killed in June 1998 when three white supremacists dragged him behind their pickup truck near Jasper, Texas, appeared with Attorney General Janet Reno on Saturday night as part of a campaign to persuade Congress to include attacks on gays and lesbians among federal hate crimes.
Gay rights advocates say the Byrd family's presence was key to building support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which has been passed by the Senate and must still be considered by the House. Among other measures, which Reno endorsed, the bill would add "sexual orientation" to the description of peoples protected by federal hate crimes acts.
At the dinner, Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, praised the Byrd family for lending their support.
"When the Byrd family had the choice to stand with the gay and lesbian community... they made a moral decision" to do so, Birch said.
The death of Matthew Shepard helped spawn a national campaign for new hate crimes legislation. So far only one state has passed new laws since Shepard's murder. But supporters of gay and lesbian rights are hoping Congress will finally act.
"These kinds of crimes threaten America's most cherished ideals," said Janet Reno at the event. "The proposed law would protect all these victims; let's work to get it passed."
The attack on Shepard was one of six hate crimes in the past year in Wyoming - nicknamed the Equality State.