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The US Army Pfc. Winchell Murder Reports

Second Conviction Obtained

In a plea bargain agreement reached Saturday, a second conviction was obtained in the death of Pfc. Barry Winchell, 21, from a crushed skull by a baseball bat while sleeping on a cot outside his barracks room in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky last July 5th.

Spc. Justin R. Fisher, 26, plead guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and providing alcohol to a minor.  Weeping openly in military court, he apologized to the family of Pfc. Barry Winchell and then addressed his dead victim:  "Barry, I hope you can hear me...I'm sorry for the part I played in this.  I know you are in a better place.  I hope you know that if I could go back to the morning it happened, I would have changed it all."

Originally charged with being a principal to premeditated murder and acting as an accessory after the fact, Fisher had had the charges reduced in exchange for his testimony in the December 9th court martial of Pvt. Calvin N. Glover, 18.  Glover was convicted of the premeditated murder of Pfc. Winchell and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He will be eligible for parole in 10 years.

In Glover's court martial, testimony had been presented describing Pfc. Winchell as having been harassed for months by Fisher and others for being considered gay.  In addition, he had been assaulted on one occasion resulting in stitches being required.  Other testimony had claimed that the base Commander, Major General Clarke, had been aware of the harassment and did nothing to stop it.  Clarke asserted during the court martial that the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy precluded interference but the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network claimed in an action alert that an investigation had actually ensued into Pfc. Winchell's sexual orientation, which is illegal under the policy, and that his blood from the assault had been left on the barracks room door by Fisher as a "reminder."

The Defense Network is calling the Fisher plea bargain a travesty.

"According to testimony at Pvt. Glover's court-martial, Fisher played a primary role in Barry's murder including:  giving Pvt. Glover the baseball bat; washing the blood off the bat; planning how to cover up the crime; being the primary soldier who taunted Barry about being gay and spread rumors about Barry; and prompting Pvt. Glover to kill Barry," it said in the action alert.

Fisher was sentenced to 12 1/2 years imprisonment.  He will be eligible for parole in 4 years.

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Army Orders Assessment of Base Command Climate

Following-up on the second conviction Saturday, US Army Secretary Louis Caldera yesterday ordered the service's Inspector General to conduct an investigation into how its "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy had been applied at the base, Reuters reported.

Lt. Gen. Michael Ackerman was instructed to "conduct an overall assessment of the command climate that existed at Ft. Campbell" as it related to the policy, which bars the military from asking a soldier about their sexual orientation as well as harassing them.  Service members caught engaging in gay sex or who declare their sexual orientation as gay are subject to dismissal, however.  The Secretary further stated, in a release, that army soldiers "deserve to be treated with dignity in a climate of safety and security.  The chief of staff (General Eric Shinseki) and I, and the entire chain of command, are committed to this cause."

Following the first conviction last month Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered the Pentagon's Inspector General to conduct an investigation at major US bases of all services to assess the implementation of the policy and determine if gays were being harassed.

The army stated that its review will be coordinated with the one of the Pentagon.

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Army Circulates Internal Memo Urging Respect, States Implementation of  "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Policy is Equitable

In an internal unclassified Pentagon memo apparently leaked to Wired Strategies today, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki urged that all soldiers be treated with dignity, honor and respect, and that derogatory descriptions of any groups, including ones based on sexual orientation, "are prejudicial to good order and discipline [and] may subject the soldier to adverse administrative actions or disciplinary measures under the UCMJ.  We declare that there is no room for harassment or threats to any soldier in our Army for any reason."

The alleged memo continued by stating that the policy on gay service members is working adequately, the very day after Secretary Caldera himself ordered the Inspector General to conduct an investigation into its application at the Ft. Campbell base:  "Therefore, as the senior leaders of the Army we are determined to continue to implement the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy with equity and fairness to all of our soldiers."

It concluded by saying that "We ... expect that all soldiers in the United States Army will be afforded a safe and secure environment....  Harassment of soldiers for any reason, to include perceived sexual orientation, will not be tolerated."

In its action alert, however, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network described events at the Ft. Campbell base as being to the contrary.

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Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Releases Action Alert, Claims Harassment Continuing & Soldiers Leaving Base Fearing for Their Safety

Contrary to the alleged Pentagon memo describing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy as being implemented with equity, an action alert issued by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network claims that the anti-gay harassment at Ft. Campbell has continued in force including the mocking of Winchell's murder and references to "faggots" and baseball bats.

Stated the action alert:  "Soldiers have left Ft. Campbell recently (SLDN has assisted 2 soldiers) because they feared for their safety due to the continuing harassment at the base.  SLDN has asked the Army and Department of Defense to take steps to stop the harassment, but nothing has been done."

The Defense Network asked that readers contact President Clinton and military leaders and call for both the resignation of Major General Clarke and protest the light sentence given to Justin Fisher in Pfc. Winchell's beating death.  It asserted:  "Major General Clarke is the commander responsible for the lack of supervision, lack of leadership and excessive drinking in the barracks that, with anti-gay harassment, created the conditions in which Private Calvin Glover could murder PFC Winchell.  A climate of harassment and violence at the base ... continues even after the murder."

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Parents of Victim May Sue

Parents of Pfc. Barry Winchell have denounced the plea bargain conviction of Justin Fisher.  Pat and Wally Kutteles, Pfc. Winchell's mother and step-father, said that they could not understand how the Army could at first charge Fisher to stand trial for goading Glover to murder their son, then drop the most serious charges.

"Suddenly, the Army let him plead to nothing related to the actual murder . . . justice was not served today," they said in a statement.

The Kutteles' were reported earlier this week as stating they were considering suing the Army for failing to protect their son.

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