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A Gay Soldier's Final Months

By David Williams
Editor, The Letter

privatewinchell.jpg - 6.88 K The murder of PFC Barry Winchell has once again raised awareness of the failure of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" More details surrounding the murder of PFC Barry Winchell surfaced at Fort Campbell in August after a two-day hearing for one of the men accused in the crime. Two soldiers have been charged in connection with the slaying, which took place in the early morning hours of July 5.

Events leading up to Winchell's murder can be traced to a Saturday night last March when Winchell's roommate, Spec. Justin Fisher, 25, of Lincoln, NE, first met Calpernia Addams, 28, after a show at The Connection, a gay club in Nashville operated by a Louisville corporation.

Fisher appeared fascinated with Addams and the following night returned with several friends, including Winchell. Winchell and Addams immediately hit it off and arranged a luncheon date. Winchell was "cute, polite, calm and masculine," she recollects. The two soon became intimately involved.

Addams, a regular entertainer there, is a former sailor who's initiated the sex reassignment process. According to Dawn Wilson of BGB in Louisville, "Callie" belongs to a transgendered group in Nashville. As Miss Tennessee Entertainer of the Year, she was scheduled to participate in the National Entertainer of the Year pageant in Louisville last month but withdrew as events surrounding Winchell's death unfolded.

Addams says that, although Winchell had felt homosexual attractions for years, he'd never had sex with another man. He wasn't gay-identified, she contends, but after meeting others in Nashville's gay and lesbian community he "felt like he had finally found a place and group of people that was safe and supportive of him in exploring himself."

A dyslexic, the former Boy Scout had overcome that disorder and was at the height of his profession. Winchell--nicknamed "Top Gun"--became an anti-armor weapon operator and was assigned to an elite Ft. Campbell unit that could be deployed anywhere in the world in eighteen hours. He was an expert marksman, winning many ribbons, including the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and Air Assault Badge, among others. Addams says he studied military manuals diligently and would spend hours on his uniform.

He had a softer side, however. One friend described him as a "sweet and gentle person" with a good sense of humor. He also liked playing the piano, which he taught himself.

At the time of his death, he was hoping to attend Warrant Officers School to become a helicopter pilot. Ironically, his alleged murderer had the same aspiration.

As the summer progressed, Winchell seems to have finally come to terms with his homosexuality. One friend remembered he would tell people sarcastically, "Don't ask, don't tell" in light hearted mockery of the military's current policy on allowing gays to serve. But not all individuals appreciated his presence in the unit. One soldier in particular became openly hostile.

Shortly after Winchell took up with Addams, Fisher apparently started spreading the word that Winchell was frequenting The Connection on weekends. Soon he was telling anyone who'd listen that Winchell was gay.

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Why Fisher embarked on that campaign is unknown, but Addams has reached a startling conclusion: jealousy. She says Winchell told her once that Fisher was attracted to her. "Fisher never came back to the club because he felt uncomfortable," Addams remembers. Fisher's sexual orientation has never been disclosed.

Fisher eventually told Sgt. Michael Kleifgen, section leader of Winchell's unit, that one of his soldiers was going to a gay bar. Though Fisher didn't mention Winchell by name, Kleifgen figured who it was after asking each soldier where he'd been the previous weekend. But when he asked Winchell if he were gay--in direct violation of the military's so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy--Winchell said no and Kleifgen didn't pursue the matter further.

That didn't stop the verbal harassment, which continued on almost a daily basis, according to Kleifgen. Some soldiers claim that unit morale was beginning to suffer, but Kleifgen, a career soldier, didn't try to stop the harassment because, as he testified, infantrymen are used to it. At any rate, he said, "everybody was having fun." One of Winchell's superiors, an unidentified first sergeant, even joined in, Kleifgen noted, reportedly saying he was going to "get that little faggot" when Winchell reported for duty one day with alcohol on his breath.

Addams says Winchell didn't seem to feel threatened by the rumors. "He was playing the macho boyfriend," she said. But he may have been trying to protect Addams from his problems. Others were seeing a different side.

Spec. Lewis Ruiz, who left Ft. Campbell in May, testified by phone from California at the August hearing that the rumors and jokes were depressing Winchell. "He was really worried about people talking about him being gay," he said.

Ruiz's wife concurred. Winchell, she said, was concerned he'd be discharged if he was found out to be gay. Fisher often harassed Winchell about his homosexuality, she added, both to his face and in front of other soldiers. "He was just straight-up mean about it," she testified. "He was just torturing him."

basemurder.jpg - 9.60 K That was the situation at Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment as it headed into the long July 4 holiday weekend. The following scenario has been pieced together from various reports in the media. Though a few minor details may eventually prove inaccurate, it's as close to the truth as can currently be determined.

The precipitating cause of the murder was probably an argument between Winchell and Pvt. Calvin Glover, 18, of Sulphur, Oklahoma, a newcomer to the unit, on the evening of Saturday, July 3.

By many accounts, Glover had a drinking problem and wasn't well-liked because he often picked fights. The night of July 3, he began telling stories about himself to get others' attention. "He was trying to make himself look like a bad ass," testified PFC Arthur Hoffman. "The stories were pretty far out."

Glover undoubtedly knew about the rumors concerning Winchell, but it's not known why he started picking on him. The argument grew into a physical altercation, with Winchell besting Glover in front of another man.

Several soldiers' later expressed delight that Glover had lost, but others weren't so happy. Some reportedly fed Glover's anger the following day, July 4, by goading him for being beaten up by a gay man. Glover, who openly expressed contempt for "niggers" and "faggots" after his arrest, allegedly told friends he wanted revenge. Special Agent Alfred Brown of the Army's Criminal Investigative Division testified that Glover said "the issue wasn't resolved, that he would get even or kill him." Glover also reportedly said, "I won't let a faggot kick my ass."

The next night at a keg party outside the barracks, the two were cordial but stayed their distance. Around midnight the beer ran dry and the party broke up. Most soldiers turned in; Monday was a holiday. But Glover was restless. sometime before 3:00am he saw Winchell sleeping on a cot outside. Spotting Fisher, Glover asked, "What is that faggot doing sleeping there?" It turned out Winchell, who was taking care of the company's mascot, a dog, hadn't wanted it in his room.

Glover and Fisher walked back to Fisher's room, where Glover found Fisher's bat. For the next ten minutes, Fisher says he walked around with a "psychotic" look on his face while chopping the air with the weapon. During that time, investigators think Fisher may have taunted him about his fight with Winchell the previous night. Glover then left the room, leaving Fisher by himself.

There are no witnesses to what happened next, but a guard later overheard Glover tell another prisoner he hit Winchell several times in the head with the bat.

After about twenty minutes, Glover made his way back to Fisher's room. "Hey, I got some blood on your bat. Help me clean it," he reportedly said. When Fisher asked him what happened, Glover allegedly replied, "I hit Winchell with it."

Fisher ran to Winchell, who was in a second floor hallway, and got covered with blood. Running down a flight of stairs in panic, he banged on PFC Nikita Sanarov's door, rushed in and screamed hysterically, "Winchell is dying." Sanarov had a car and went to get it. As he was driving back, he saw Glover carrying some clothes, including some gloves which he dropped. Glover was dripping wet, he said, apparently after rinsing himself off with water. Investigators later found blood smeared on his bedroom door and bloodied clothes discarded in his room.

Meanwhile, another private, Christopher Matthews, found Winchell. Though he had some medical training, there was little he could do. Winchell's skull was shattered like an eggshell, blood was coming out of his left ear, and he was struggling to breathe. Fisher returned and began "babbling and jumping up and down," Matthews testified, finally pulling a fire alarm and waking the entire barracks.

According to a report from the Gay People's Chronicle in Cleveland, harassment of Winchell may have continued even as he lay dying. A medic--maybe Matthews--told a retired soldier that a few soldiers stood around Winchell after the attack and yelled anti-gay slurs at him.

Winchell never regained consciousness. After his death, his stepfather, Wally Kutteles, said his face was swollen "like a baseball." He and Winchell's mother, Patricia, barely recognized him. The coroner reportedly stated it was difficult keeping his brains from spilling out onto the examining table.

A public commemoration for Winchell drew about 200 persons to Nashville's Centennial Park July 21. Calls for an inclusive hate crimes law for Tennessee were made. "Barry was not pretentious or cruel, and Barry was always just a kind, calm gentleman," Addams told the assembled crowd in front of an enlarged photograph of her late boyfriend.

After a month of investigation, the Army finally acknowledged in mid-August that, although vengeance appeared to be the main motive, the alleged killer also struck Winchell in part because of his homosexual orientation. It instituted clarifications of its policy on gays which it hopes will deter soldiers from the kind of harassment Winchell suffered during the last months of his life.

Fisher and Glover are now in jail awaiting trial on several charges. No dates have been set.
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