Video: Matthew Shepard's mother on hate crimes

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/1/2009 9:53:15 AM ET 2009-05-01T13:53:15

Judy Shepard doesn't think Rep. Virginia Foxx,  R-N.C., was sincere when she apologized for calling the 1998 murder of Shepard's son, Matthew, "a hoax." 

"Attacks of lesser consequence have been said about Matt since the beginning... but I never expected it to be called 'a hoax,'" said Shepard Thursday on "The Rachel Maddow Show."

During a debate in the House of Representatives Wednesday, Foxx said that the death of Matthew Shepard shouldn't be used to justify a hate crimes bill because it wasn't a hate crime. Foxx said Shepard was killed during a robbery.

In a statement released the following day, Foxx said her comments didn't convey what she meant to say. "The term 'hoax' was a poor choice of words used in the discussion of the hate crimes bill," Foxx said.

Foxx said she relied on two news reports for her comments about robbery being a motive for the slaying. "Referencing these media accounts may have been a mistake, but if so, it was a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts," she said.

Judy Shepard, who was present when Foxx made the remarks, was unconvinced by the clarification. "It's apologizing for semantics but not her sentiment, her insensitivity or her ignorance," she said on MSNBC.

Foxx Gay Debate
Nell Redmond  /  AP
This Tuesday, March 16, 2004 file photo shows Virginia Foxx in Kernersville, N.C. A North Carolina congresswoman under fire for calling claims that a Wyoming man was killed because he was gay a "hoax" says she should have selected her words more carefully.
The bill approved by the House would expand a federal hate crimes law to include acts motivated by sexual orientation.

"Everyone knew Matthew's murder was a hate crime, but it couldn't be prosecuted as a hate crime. We couldn't call it a hate crime. Getting this bill passed in the House brings gay rights up to the level of equality," said Shepard.

The killing of the University of Wyoming student became a rallying point for the gay rights movement. Shepard was tied up, beaten and left for dead on a wooden fence. The two men who killed him are serving life sentences in prison. Prosecutors' cases included evidence with elements of robbery, drugs and hate against gays, but the court only determined that the men were guilty of murder and not why they killed Shepard.

"Hate crimes are a different kind of crime. They're meant to send a message to a community, not an individual. We need to address this somehow," said Shepard. She argues that the expanded legislation would allow the federal government to step in if there are biases against gays and lesbians that affect local law enforcement or prosecution. The expanded definition of "hate crime" would also entitle states to financial help.

"[Laramie] had to furlough four employees to pay for the investigation and the trial. They weren't eligible for federal resources and money," added Shepard.

She is hopeful that the bill will also pass in the Senate. "We know we have the support of the president and senators... I'm hopeful that all legislation to protect the gay and lesbian community will be addressed by the Obama administration."

Video: Keith Olbermann names Rep. Foxx 'Worst' Gay rights supporters were immediately critical of Foxx after she made the statements.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said the comments were "unreal, unbelievable."

Jim Neal, a one-time candidate for U.S. Senate from North Carolina who is gay, said Foxx showed ignorance in her comments.

"I'm baffled that any kind of elected representative would make that kind of absurd and heartless comment about a young man whose life was taken away from him, and taken away because he was gay," Neal said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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