According to Middleton, the main points of controversy in determining martyrdom, aside from the lack of a clear, specific definition are deaths involving suicide and murder. It is not clear whether the taking of one’s own life or loss of life after attempt (or success) to kill another still qualifies one as a ‘martyr’, considering both of these acts are generally viewed as wrong.
In the image of the death of Matthew Shepard, the artist portrays the characters very obviously in lights of good/evil (and helpless). The persecutors are illustrated as animals, even less than humans. They have sharp teeth and frightening, bulging eyes. They are obviously meant to be inhumane and evil. The victim, Shepard, is shown as mutilated. It is even difficult to discern if (or where) he has a face, and there is blood on his ripped clothing. This is to show the extreme suffering which he underwent. This displays his obvious helplessness, invoking feelings of pity and sorrow. He also is draped on the wooden fence, arms stretched to the sides. As Middleton points out in his account of Matthew Shepard’s martyrdom, the position is reminiscent of Jesus on the cross.
If I were to write an account of Matthew Shepard’s story, I would highlight the helplessness of this victim and
the horror of his death. Middleton explains that whether Matthew Shepard was a saint in his previous life or not, the circumstances of his death are all that really matter to people. This assertion is true, as his death is the rallying point that a cause needs, not his death. I would highlight the fact that he was killed for the sole reason of his sexual orientation. He was not provoking hostility, his only crime that night was to trust the wrong people to give him a ride home. Also illustrating the brutal truth of a crime such as this gets people’s attention. Is this a cheap strategy? Maybe. However, it would also be a crime to downplay the truth of the matter.