Soldier convicted in connection to anti-gay murder released early

Published: Tuesday October 24, 2006

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A soldier convicted in connection to an anti-gay murder in 1999 has been released early by the U.S. Army, according to reports by an activist group.

Former Army Specialist Justin Fisher, who was convicted of conspiracy to murder Private First Class Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, KY, has been released from prison after serving just seven years of a 12 1/2 year sentence.

Winchell was attacked in July 1999 by Calvin Glover, a former soldier based at Fort Campbell, in what was later revealed as an anti-gay hate crime. A later investigation by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) found that Winchell had been the target of anti-gay harassment in the months leading up to his murder.

"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 Patricia and Wally Kutteles, PFC Winchell's parents, in a release issued today. "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."

The SLDN noted that shortly after Winchell's death, the Pentagon adopted a 13-point "Anti-Harassment Action Plan," but contends they have found no evidence that the plan was ever implemented.

In a 2000 Department of Defense survey, 37 percent of troops reported that they had witnessed or experienced targeted incidents of anti-gay harassment, 9 percent of them reported anti-gay threats, and 5 percent oreported witnessing or experiencing anti-gay physical assaults.

"By the Pentagon's own admission, anti-gay harassment is rampant throughout the forces," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of SLDN, "yet Pentagon leaders have barely lifted a finger to curb attacks on its own troops."

"The most important step in curbing harassment is ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Winchell's parents continued in the release, "and sending a strong message that second-class citizenship is not tolerated in a first class military. But, until that happens, Pentagon leaders must, at the very least, step up to the plate and take real steps to protect our troops."