This fact-based TV movie explores the story behind the infamous Matthew Shepard gay-bashing case, in which a Laramie, WY, college student was brutally murdered by a pair of local boys in 1998. Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing star as Judy and Dennis Shepard, the parents whose agonizing decision over whether to ask for the death penalty for one of their son's killers provides the movie with its dramatic structure. Beginning with a slow-motion re-creation of the attack on young Matthew (Shane Meier), the script moves back in time to encompass the boy's troubled adolescent romance with another boarding-school student, his previous attack at the hands of a gang while on vacation, and his tentative shot at self-actualization among like-minded friends. These flashbacks are interspersed with the central drama, in which Shepard's parents sift through their son's belongings and slowly come to a surprising decision about what to say at his killer's trial. THE MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY premiered on NBC on March 12, 2002, a week after HBO's THE LARAMIE PROJECT first aired.