Army releases soldier convicted in connection with anti-gay murder

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The  Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is reporting that former Army Specialist Justin Fisher, who was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, Ky., has been released from prison after serving seven years of an original 12 ½ year sentence.

Winchell was attacked by Calvin Glover, a former soldier based at Fort Campbell, in July 1999, in what was later revealed as an anti-gay hate crime.

The Associated Press reports that Army officials have not confirmed the release, and attempts to reach Fisher were not successful. The Tennessean reports that when the Associated Press called the halfway house in the Nashville area on Tuesday, a resident who answered said Fisher had been released.

An investigation by advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) found that Winchell had been the target of constant anti-gay harassment in the months leading up to his murder.

In response to the Winchell case, Pentagon leaders adopted a 13-point ‘Anti-Harassment Action Plan,’ meant to protect troops from such harassment. There is no evidence, however, that the plan has ever been implemented.

“Seven years after the murder of PFC Winchell, the military has done little to protect its troops from another Justin Fisher,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of SLDN. “By the Pentagon’s own admission, anti-gay harassment is rampant throughout the forces, yet Pentagon leaders have barely lifted a finger to curb attacks on its own troops. The Department of Defense’s anti-harassment plan has not been implemented, its leaders have not been properly trained on dealing with harassment and its service members are left vulnerable to unchecked homophobia. If military leaders do not take action to properly deal with harassment in the ranks, it is only a matter of time before another anti-gay hate crime occurs on their watch.”

A 2000 Department of Defense survey found that 80% of troops had heard derogatory anti-gay remarks during the prior year. Thirty-seven percent said they witnessed or experienced targeted incidents of harassment, 9% of whom reported anti-gay threats and 5% of whom reported witnessing or experiencing anti-gay physical assaults. That survey led then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen to add “Don’t Harass” to the law’s prior title, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” No additional surveys have been conducted since, despite a pledge, as part of the Anti-Harassment Action Plan, to do so.

“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. “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 most important step in curbing harassment is ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ 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 the plate and take real steps to protect our troops.”

Dr. David Chu, the Undersecretary of Defense charged with implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and related human resource policies, has said existing measures “are sufficient” for dealing with harassment, and that a directive “is not necessary.”

For more information on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Anti-Harassment Action Plan, visit www.sldn.org.