Soldier’s Life Ends Violently
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) _ Barry Winchell fired a .50-caliber machine gun well enough to be the best marksman in his company. He hoped to someday become an Army helicopter pilot.
But Winchell’s life ended violently last month, not on a battlefield somewhere but in his barracks at Fort Campbell, where he was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.
Army prosecutors say he was murdered by a soldier in his platoon. But gay rights advocates say suggestions that hatred for homosexuals may have played a role reveals something larger about the military itself.
``Clearly, anti-gay harassment has been a huge problem with `don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue,‴ C. Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Wednesday. ``Each year, the reports of anti-gay harassment from verbal gay bashing on to death threats have increased.″
The Army conducted a hearing this week to determine whether the murder case against Pvt. Calvin Glover, 18, of Sulphur, Okla., will go to a general court-martial. The decision is expected in about two weeks.
Winchell’s roommate, Spec. Justin Fisher, 25, of Lincoln, Neb., is charged as an accomplice.
Trial counsel Capt. Gregg Engler, whose job is similar to that of a civilian prosecutor, said he believed simple vengeance was the motive.
Engler argued that a drunken Glover picked a fight with Winchell, 21, at a Fort Campbell party on July 3, became humiliated after losing the scuffle, vowed in front of several witnesses to get even and later used the bat to crush Winchell’s skull.
``Private Glover murdered Pfc. Barry Winchell, and there’s no doubt about it,″ Engler said.
But testimony at the hearing also raised the possibility that the killing was motivated by hatred for a man rumored to be homosexual.
If Winchell was a hate-crime victim, it would be the first known case of sexual orientation being the motive behind a soldier’s slaying at a U.S. military installation in the five years since Congress passed the ``don’t ask, don’t tell″ law, Osburn said.
His group has reported 400 cases of anti-gay harassment in the military in 1998, including death threats, compared with 182 violations in 1997 _ a 120 percent increase. The group has said that commanders should enforce rules designed to protect the privacy of service members and limit investigations into their lives.
Sometime late last year, soldiers in Winchell’s unit learned that he had started frequenting The Connection, a bar in Nashville, Tenn., that’s popular among homosexuals.
Two sergeants in Winchell’s platoon, Michael Kleifgen and Eric Dubielak, testified that Winchell was the frequent target of name-callers because of rumors that he was gay. Both said Fisher started spreading the rumors.
During the last several months of Winchell’s life, rarely a day went by without someone calling the Kansas City, Mo., native a derogatory name, Kleifgen said.
Winchell, however, told Kleifgen and Dubielak that he wasn’t gay, Kleifgen said. Another soldier, Spec. Lewis Ruiz, testified that Winchell was worried the rumors would get him kicked out of the Army.
Under the ``don’t ask″ policy, the military isn’t supposed to investigate sexual orientation unless ``credible information″ surfaces about a person’s homosexuality. Proof that someone is gay or professes to be gay is grounds for automatic discharge.
Just how much, if any, of Winchell’s lifestyle played a role in his death may never be fully known.
Clarence Patton of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project attended the first day of the hearing. He said even if the killing wasn’t entirely a hate crime, biases often escalate into violence.
``What we are now clear on is surely Glover is a homophobe and a racist,″ he said after a witness testified to hearing Glover use derogatory terms about gays and blacks. ``What we need to hear now is that Glover had knowledge that, in fact, Winchell was indeed gay.″