A co-conspirator in the antigay murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, Ky., has been released from prison by the military. Former Army Specialist Justin Fisher had served 7 of the 12 1/2 years to which he was sentenced.
Winchell's head was bashed in with a baseball bat while he slept in the Army barracks, in July 1999. He died soon thereafter in the hospital.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) immediately began receiving calls from gay servicemen at Fort Campbell who described an antigay atmosphere at the base. They called Winchell's death a gay bashing.
It was unclear whether Winchell self-identified as gay. He had been dating a pre-operative transsexual who lived 24/7 as a female in the months leading up to his death.
The base commander tried to downplay any gay aspects of the murder, but it became clear through SLDN's efforts and the subsequent trial of the defendants that homophobia played a large role in the tragedy.
Private Calvin Glover was convicted of the murder and continues to serve time in prison. Fisher was convicted of being an accessory to the murder and impeding the investigation.
'Army leaders gave Justin Fisher a shockingly lenient sentence in the first place, but just as importantly, they have also failed, every day since, to protect other soldiers from Barry's fate,' said Winchell's parents Patricia and Wally Kutteles in a released statement.
'As a mother, I never want to see Barry's story repeated. As an American, I am outraged that our leaders have taken no action to make sure it never happens again.'
SLDN pressed the Pentagon to adopt what became a 13-point 'anti-harassment action plan' that outlined implementation of the antigay policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' However, there is little evidence that significant effort has gone to seeing that it is carried out.
'Seven years after the murder of PFC Winchell, the military has done little to protect its troops from another Justin Fisher,' said SLDN executive director C. Dixon Osburn. 'By the Pentagon's own admission, antigay harassment is rampant throughout the forces, yet Pentagon leaders have barely lifted a finger to curb attacks on its own troops.'
The organization is pushing for repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' A bill to do so has been introduced in the US House of Representatives and has garnered about 120 co-sponsors.