Jorge Steven Lopez and Matthew Shepard: Two Crimes, One Motive

By: Jorge A. Colon Ortiz (Translated by Karlo Karlo)

Who would ever think that the stories of Jorge Steven Lopez and Matthew Shepard would have some parallels? They were certainly not born within the same social and cultural context, neither born into families with similar economic status. But, they are certainly victims of social prejudice, prior and after their death. They are both victims of hate-crimes.

Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, located in the city of Laramie. On October 7, 1998, Matt (as his friends called him), was taken to the outskirts of the city of Laramie by two men who tied him to a fence and beat him until he was comatose. It wasn’t until 18 hours later that a bicyclist found Matt while passing by in front of what he thought was a scarecrow.  Five days later at the city’s regional hospital they young Matt died.  Matt's murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Anderson, were found guilty and both sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was a 19-year-old resident of the municipality of Caguas, Puerto Rico. On November 13, 2009, Jorge Steven was murdered, decapitated, dismembered and partially burned by his self-confessed murderer. The murder occurred in the town of Cayey, Puerto Rico. The murderer of Jorge Steven’s trial is yet to begin.

Let’s start with the most obvious similitudes in order to establish parallels between these two cases. Both Jorge Steven and Matt were young, slender, of affable character, pleasant and very much loved by their relatives. They were also openly gay and their parents had embraced their son’s homosexuality and were very supportive respectively.  Both young men were brutally murdered in a remote area away from the city.

However, what makes these two cases even more interesting are both the reaction of the murderers and the community at large following the assassination.

Matt's murderers confessed that the reason for beating the youngster was a lesson not to mess with heterosexuals.  On the other hand, Jorge Steven’s murderer, Juan Jose Martínez Matos, confessed that he killed his victim after a disappointing gender-clothes association led him to realize that Jorge was not a woman.  This hatred towards a particular sector of the population is a homogeneous trait between the two cases.

Moreover, questions, doubts, and moral issues were raised in regards to the innocence of both victims due to the prevalent prejudice towards this particular sector and the issue of homosexuality.  

As if the case of Jorge Steven needed more surrealness and indignation, the officer in charge of the investigation, Angel Rodríguez Colón, publicly argued that the victim was partly responsibility for what had happened to him: “These type of people know ahead of time what awaits them when they go out in the streets and get into this.”


In Matt's case, arguments aimed at blaming the victim established that he had sexually flirted with the murderers and this kind of behavior would most likely yield to violent behavior.

Both crimes also raised questions about the sexual orientation of the murderers, in Jorge Steven’s case his murderer pleaded to the press not to be labeled as a homosexual.

Overlapping these two cases is also the issue of possible drug abuse by both murderers.  McKinney’s possible addiction to methamphetamine was widely discussed within the U.S. media, while in the case of Juan Jose Martinez it was the use of cocaine.  In both cases it was argued whether these substances propelled the murderers to act in such a violent manner as to lead them to brutally kill their victims.

Martinez also confessed to police that while serving in jail for a domestic violence crime he was sexually abused by one of his inmates. In Anderson’s case, his upbringing was plagued with violence and alcoholism, while McKinney suffered serious addiction problems after the death of his mother.  It is the murderer’s tumultuous pasts that also make these cases so similar.

Both Jorge Steven and Matt were portrayed as drug users.   The fact that it was rumored that Jorge Steven engaged in prostitution generated a sense of moral confision and debate in the community.  This issue adds even more complexity to the case.  

In Matt's case, shortly after the savage beating, it was discovered that the boy was HIV positive and an acquaintance of Matt stated that he had expressed his desire to commit suicide.

All these elements turn both into events full of social questions and vague justifications of the killers’ behavior. They both raise doubts, also, amongst those who hold religious and moral points of view, which at times have more weight in our society than violence itself.

Gay Panic Defense

The "gay panic defense" is a legal defense that seeks to establish that the murderer had a lapse of insanity tied to a state of violence that led to perpetrate the attack. The genesis of this defense tactic stems from a weak psychiatric defense theory outlined by Dr. Edward J. Kempf in 1920.

The theory states that the perpetrator suffers from psychosis that generates brief hallucinations and violent reactions and accuses the victim of homosexual acts.

Notwithstanding, this defense has not been brought up in a homogeneous and solid  manner in the various fora of the United States in which they have been raised.

Aaron McKinney raised this defense in court arguing that he beat Matt because Matt patted his thigh in the direction of his genitals, but the court rejected the argument.

In Martinez's case, his  statements adhere to the same defense. The alleged murderer said the memory of the incident at the prison led him to perpetrate such a cruel act when he realized that Jorge Steven was a man and not a woman. It remains to be seen if defense lawyers will use the argument in local courts.

Despite the extensive overlap in the circumstances surrounding the cases and the moral and religious arguments that undermine the events, there has also been a positive side: the reaction of the press and the community to a crime of these dimensions. Both in the case of Matt as in Jorge Steven, media coverage has been intense, and the gay community in general has spilled over into expressions of repudiation of such crimes through demonstrations, marches and vigils.

In short, both the positives and negatives of  the reactionary behavior that generated these sad but important events, help to give a homogeneous hue to the analysis in order to understand that the prejudice and public discussions are in fact very similar both communities.


I vividly remember the first time I heard about the Matthew Shepard murder that took place in Wyoming. I remember being outraged and thinking it was ridiculous that the murderers even attempted to justify their actions with the fact that Shepard was allegedly being flirtatious with them. Similarly in the Jorge Steven Lopez case, I think the murderer's use of attempting to justify what he did by what had happened to him in the past in prison is an intensely thin rationalization. I don't think in either of these cases the accusations of what the victims "inflicted" onto the murderers is in any way shape or form deserving of the brutality they experienced, ultimately resulting in death. I do think it's very interesting how both cases have many similarities, given they take place in completely different locations as well as vastly different time frames. I'm sure many people would suggest that when it comes to hate crimes among society, we may possibly be improving and that as the years progress, tolerance grows and crimes such as these take place less and less frequently. While I don't know if I entirely agree with that, both of these crimes took place over 10 years apart from each other and as this article specifically highlights, holds many parallels and alignments.

I think it's outrageous that both murderers, although they happened at different times, claimed that their actions were provoked by the victims.  Even if they had past experiences where they felt uncomfortable the someone of the same sex, they should have talked to someone and got help.  I'm pretty sure that the victims did not do anything towards the murderers (like touching McKinnley's thigh) to harm them, and if they did I'm sure that it was not something that words could not solve.  Being around Carribeans and general males often, I do witness negative reactions and words towards homosexuals and I find myself constantly letting them know that no one is going to hit on them and that they are no different from straight people. Luckily, no one that I personally know has taken a step to harm another individual.  I find it sad that things like this occur, and using the idea of having a "psycological problem" in the court system is not an excuse for taking someone's life due to their love interests.


The murderers in both cases drew blame onto the victim for the crime they committed. In both cases the victims supposedly made sexual advances onto their murderers.  It is disturbing to think that one cannot contain themselves from murdering a person because of that person’s sexual identity.  It’s one thing if an individual is defending themselves from being raped.  But viciously murdering another because that person touched your thigh in a certain manner?   

“Jorge Steven was murdered, decapitated, dismembered and partially burned.”   How can that type of murder be justified by a temporary panic? 

The Gay Panic Defense is usually not a justifiable defense in most cases that use it, mainly because there is not enough psychological research to back it.  

I find this article to be EXTREMELY furiating. Whether you went into gay panic mode or not, that isn't a fucking excuse to kill someone. If I was picking up a prostitute (which for the record is unlikely to happen) and I found out that they were actually female to male men, I would never freak out and kill them. Nor would I make them feel bad for their want and perhaps need to transition. It is disgusting that straight men could get off with a defense like that. Additionally, it doesn't matter whether or not Jorge was a prostitute... no one deserves to be killed even if they have a questionable career or a deviant lifestyle. EVERYONE has the right to live, and the fact that someone believes that they have the right to take someone elses life in the heat of a panic or a deeply routed hate for something that is different from them or that they are afraid of is absolutely pathetic and unexcuseable. CHILDREN are the ones who bully eachother and have trouble reserving their emotions and feelings, as adults we should be fuckign mature enough to accept the fact that people who are different than us live on this planet and that we have to coexist. I fucking hate small minded and intolerant people and while I understand that most of these homophobic idealogies are cultural and we can't just blame people outright for their ideas... people need to accept difference and learn to coexist. Agree to disagree. The difference between me and these pathetic excuses for human beings is that I could accept that they don't accept me. They not only can't accept my existence, but they apparently feel/felt compelled to end it.

As I was reading this article I became more and more disgusted by these murderers and the stupid reasons they started to come up with to defend their murders. To say you killed a man because he flirted with you or showboated his sexuality is beyond dumb and deserves to be punished in the most extreme sense. And the fact the officer stated that that is what he was getting into when he was out there with his sexuality is disgusting. Im honesty disturbed by the reasons they are coming with for the murders of two innocent men because of their sexuality, its a shame that people are still like this.

As someone who has followed Matthew Shepards story closely, read the play, and the movie, this is an incredibly interesting article. It is unfortunate that in our society there are these rules in terms of victims where they are further attacked based on who they are, what they were wearing, and sometimes even a smile. The same issues are found in rape cases and this is a huge problem. I can only hope with this up and coming trial that society has a wake up call. What I mean is to not just give this murderer a life sentence, but to teach people that a victim is a victim, and the fact that there is this much hate stired up in a person says a lot about how our society runs.

It is hopeful to look at the slowly deteriorating authority of the gay panic defense, but this doesn't change the fact that people are still killed/brutalized due to their assumed gender identity and/or sexuality far more often than the mainstream media thinks. Further, the courts and media continue to paint the murderers as complicated, tragic figures who have experienced drug addiction and abuse rather than murderers who are full of fear and hate. 

Deep seated homophobia was the cause of both of these murders. It's terrible to think that a popular opinion to stop hate crimes towards queer individuals is for the victim to "act less gay." If as a society we taught people not to bully or reinforce stereotypical representations of gender and sex as opposed to teaching don't get bullied we would all be better off and maybe Matthew Sheppard and Jorge Steven Lopez would never have met their fates.

I dont agree with the arguments that were given during the trial. I think that when you speak about cases like this where drug addiction, "homophobia" and wghen a psychotic breaks takes place its really on what people believe in and how the defense argue this. I dont think that drug addiction had anything to do with this because if we really look at drug addiction and people that go through it on a daily basis, we would possibly have more cases like this but to me its not an excuse. Although, i do believe someone is capable of a psychoic break and possibly take out all their frustrations unto someone else especially if they feel uncomfortable and their pride and ego are on the line.

First off, a hate crime is a crime there is no justification to kill anyone but the fact that you can kill someone with your bare hands because your homophobic disgusts us all.  It is one thing to murder someone but the way both Matthew Shepard and Jorge Stevens Lopez died was blasphemy.  No excuse for any of these murders, they should spend the rest of the days they see lightin jail because its sad to even hear the excuses of "we was teaching him a lesson" or "i didn't know he was a man".  They was better off saying another excuse than those because that is pure bull.

This article discusses both cases and how the murderers defended themselves. They essentially had no real defense. There is never a reason to murder anyone and the fact that they had the nerve to use something like the gay panic defense is horrible. There is no logical understanding of someone saying that they killed someone becuase they touched thier thigh or looked at them and winked. I personally am glad at the attention these cases recieved. Of course it is not fair to single them out as appropriate to be in the public, but its better than nothing. Hate crimes need to stop, because people do get away with doing whatever they want by using these horrible, silly excuses.

 I find it appauling that the only reason that Jorge Steven Lopez and Matthew Shepard's cases were made so public was because they fit the description of a perfect child. Even then, it was still brought up that Matt was HIV positive and Lopez may have been a prositute. Like so many queer people murdered, it should not matter if they were a prositute or a drug addict. The point is they were horrifiically murdered. It is also disturbing that the killers of these two boys were so threatened by Matt and Jorge threatening their position in a society that is ruled by straight white men. Matt was being sent the message not to mess with heterosexuals and Jorge was thought to be a woman. The gay panic defense it bull shit to be frank. There is no way that these killers could have been so threatened that they had to torture and kill these innocent boys. The doctor that invented this theory should be shot.

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