TOKYO (AP) _ The court-martial of an American sailor charged with murdering a homosexual shipmate may be postponed following a defense request, the U.S. Navy said today.

At a pre-trial hearing today at the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo, military judge Cmdr. David P. Holcombe agreed to consider pushing back the April 27 starting date, the Navy said in a statement.

Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey, 21, of Westland, Mich., is charged with murder and faces the death penalty if convicted. Petty Officer Allen Schindler, 22, of San Diego was beaten to death Oct. 27 in a public restroom near the U.S. Sasebo Naval Base in southwestern Japan.

Helvey has not yet entered a plea. A new date for the trial will not be considered until after April 1.

Schindler's case has become a rallying point for many gay activists who claim homophobia in the Navy led to the killing.

Airman Charles Vins, 21, of Sturgis, Mich., who was arrested with Helvey, was found guilty of not reporting a crime and resisting arrest. Vins' confinement was limited to four months as part of a pre-trial agreement to testify against Helvey.