Commanders Cleared in Gay Murder

Wednesday, July 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Commanders at an Army base where a homosexual soldier was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier should not be held responsible for the incident, Army investigators concluded.

In a report expected to be made public Friday, the Army's inspector general also found there is no general ``climate'' of homophobia at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Pfc. Barry Winchell was murdered in his barracks last July, senior defense officials familiar with the report said.

The report found anti-gay attitudes among some members of Winchell's unit: D Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, the officials said. It concluded, however, that the 101st Airborne as a whole harbors no unusual degree of hatred of homosexuals. The officials agreed to discuss the report's conclusions Tuesday on condition they not be identified.

The Pentagon planned to release the report along with findings of an advisory group that Defense Secretary William Cohen formed last spring to draft an ``action plan'' for each of the military services to address the problem of harassment of gays.

Officials said Cohen's panel will recommend that service members of all ranks receive more tailored forms of training on how to implement properly the Clinton administration's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy on homosexuality. It holds that gays can serve in the armed forces so long as they don't reveal their sexual orientation. Cohen appointed the panel after the Defense Department inspector general reported in March that harassment based on perceived homosexuality is widespread in the military.

Cohen's spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, refused comment Tuesday on either the Army report or the advisory panel's findings.

Patricia Kutteles of Kansas City, Mo., Winchell's mother, said in a Tuesday interview that she had not read the report, ``but we're appalled at what we're hearing. We're very disappointed.''

Her Washington lawyer, Charles Butler, said the Army has evidence that Winchell's company commander was alerted to anti-gay harassment before the killing but did not act.

The Army inspector general's investigation at Fort Campbell was requested by Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark, commander of the 101st Airborne at the time of Winchell's slaying. Clark has since been assigned to an important post in the Pentagon, and the report concludes that he should be not be held responsible for the killing.

The report's conclusions are to be reviewed by Clark's successor, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Cody.

A military court convicted a member of Winchell's unit, Pvt. Calvin Glover, of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Winchell's roommate, Spc. Justin Fisher, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison for his role. At Glover's trial, soldiers testified that Winchell was taunted with anti-gay slurs in the months leading up to his slaying.

The incident renewed a national debate over the Clinton administration's policy on homosexuals, which critics assert does not work because it has failed to protect perceived homosexuals from harassment.

Michelle Benecke, co-director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading critic of the Pentagon's gays policy, said Tuesday she had not seen the inspector general's report but has questioned previously the Army's commitment to ensuring that commanders be held accountable for anti-gay behavior on their posts.

Benecke said she was aware of news reports that the inspector general found no fault with Fort Campbell's commanders. ``If that is true, the Army report will not have a shred of credibility,'' she said.

Her group, which has interviewed soldiers at bases across the country, including Fort Campbell, believes that harassment of soldiers perceived to be gay is a major problem not being addressed by commanders.


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