The judge in the Matthew Shepard murder case on Wednesday threatened to bar the man on trial from employing a "gay panic" defense.
District Judge Barton Voigt told Aaron McKinney's lawyers that he is not sure such a defense is allowed under Wyoming law and criticized the defense for invoking it without consulting him first.
McKinney is charged with murder in the beating death of the gay University of Wyoming student.
The "gay panic," or "homosexual panic," defense is built on a theory that a person with latent homosexual tendencies will have an uncontrollable, violent reaction when propositioned by someone who is gay.
McKinney's lawyers have argued that McKinney snapped during a drunken, drug-induced rage after a sexual advance by Shepard triggered memories of a childhood homosexual assault. The lawyers are trying to save McKinney's life by convincing the jury he is guilty only of manslaughter.
Defense attorney Dion Custis denied he was using a gay panic defense. But he said: "The fact that Matthew Shepard made a sexual advance has a relevance in this case. It's something Aaron McKinney responded to." He added that Shepard's behavior helps explain McKinney's state of mind, "which is a defense."
The judge ordered Custis to provide a legal basis for his arguments and said he would make a decision later.