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Update and Next Steps Regarding the Murder of PFC Barry Winchell

Your Action Has Had An Impact. Thank you to all who sent emails or called Fort Campbell, Kentucky regarding the alleged murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell on July 5, 1999. The Army has changed its public response to the incident. Fort Campbell officials have stopped saying that PFC Winchell's death was the result of a "physical altercation" and that there is no evidence that PFC Winchell's murder may have been a hate crime. These statements were made shortly after the murder, before the Army had even interviewed well-known people who might have information relevant to the case, and similar statements were reported as recently as yesterday. This caused great concern that Army officials had, at best, drawn conclusions in the case before conducting a full investigation. The base now is saying that "[a]ll aspects of his death will be examined and the results of this investigation will be made public as appropriate."

Next Steps. SLDN asks everyone who has not yet contacted Fort Campbell to please ask Fort Campbell officials to investigate the incident properly, including all leads concerning the possibility that this may have been a hate crime. Please also ask officials to take steps to ensure the safety of all soldiers at Fort Campbell - we have been contacted by soldiers who are fearful for their own safety in the wake of PFC Winchellís murder. You can contact Fort Campbell by: 

  • Calling: 270-798-3025. 
  • Emailing: chamblissc@emh2.campbell.army.mil
  • Writing: Maj. Pamela Hart at 101st Airborne Division Air Assault, Public Affairs Office, 2334 19th Street, Fort Campbell, KY 42223-5375.

Additionally, anyone with relevant information about the alleged murder of PFC Barry Winchell should contact SLDN by email at sldn@sldn.org or by phone at 202.328.3244, extension #113. SLDN would like you to pass this message along to anyone you know who is stationed at Fort Campbell or has friends stationed at Fort Campbell. If necessary, those contacting SLDN do not have to give their names

To Contact the Family of PFC Barry Winchell With Condolences. SLDN thanks those of you who have expressed an interest in sending condolences to the family of PFC Barry Winchell. If you wish to express your condolences, you may do so via e-mail or regular mail. SLDN is in contact with the family and obtained their permission for you to contact them via the following methods. E-mail: pfcbw@aol.com or Family of PFC Barry Winchell, P.O. Box 233, Grandview, MO 64030. The family may not be able to respond personally to correspondence at this time, but expresses its gratitude in advance.

The Case To Date. During the early morning hours of July 5th, 1999 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, PFC Barry Winchell was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by one or more fellow soldiers in his barracks. Serious concerns have been raised that this alleged murder may have been an anti-gay hate crime. We know that at least one soldier is in custody and has been charged with premeditated murder. It is reported that up to ten soldiers may have been involved in the incident.

We were notified of the alleged murder last Friday by the Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice, soldiers at Fort Campbell and other local sources concerned that his death may have been an anti-gay hate crime. Among other steps, we immediately sent Kathi Westcott, an SLDN staff attorney, and Gary Norcross, a veteran and an SLDN volunteer consultant, to the Fort Campbell area to begin a preliminary investigation. We spoke to more than fifty community members and soldiers in Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee, and with the assistance of local organizations and businesses, we distributed more than 3,000 fliers asking anyone with information about the alleged murder to contact us.

SLDN would like to thank the Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice, and in particular its co-chairs Rhonda White and Bill Turner, who have devoted so much time, energy and assistance in our investigation. We also thank Penny Harrington, a local attorney, for stepping in and assisting us on such short notice.

It is too early to draw any conclusions about the circumstances of the alleged murder of PFC Winchell. Based on our preliminary findings, however, it appears that concerns about the possibility of an anti-gay hate crime are well-founded and deserve full investigation.

The Armyís handling of the case to date raises serious concerns about how the Army will investigate the alleged murder. As noted above, the Armyís response has changed in the last few days. The Army is now stating that it will investigate all aspects of the alleged murder.

We are particularly concerned to press the Army to address the significant obstacles that exist for individuals who may have information relevant to this crime, but who are reluctant to cooperate with Army investigators out of fear for their safety and the possibility of losing their careers under "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue." We are seeking assurances from the Army that the murder investigation will not be used to ferret out gay soldiers, and that any gay soldiers who come to the Armyís attention as the result of legitimate investigative efforts be protected from discharge or prosecution based on their sexual orientation or relationships.

We have asked for meetings with both the Secretary of the Army and the Commanding General at Fort Campbell to address our concerns and press for a full investigation into the alleged murder. We have assisted in finding and advised local counsel for a civilian witness who was reluctant to talk to the Armyís investigators. This person will now be speaking with Fort Campbell investigators.

We have not yet concluded that this is an anti-gay hate crime. However, we have previously documented in our annual reports on "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue" the continued rise in incidents of anti-gay harassment reported to SLDN. In our most recent report issued in March, we documented a 120% increase in reports of anti-gay harassment, including verbal gay-bashing and death threats. We will continue to press the Pentagon to distribute guidance on anti-gay harassment that has been sitting on the shelf since 1997 and train service members on the guidance.

Our thoughts and prayers are with PFC Winchellís family and loved ones. We will keep you apprised of further developments.

Thank you for your help and support of service members.

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