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SLDN Letter

July 12, 1999

The Honorable Louis Caldera
Secretary of the Army
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20310-0101

RE: Request for Meeting Regarding the Alleged Murder of PFC Barry Winchell

Dear Secretary Caldera:

We write to request a meeting with you concerning the alleged murder of PFC Barry Winchell early last week at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. PFC Winchell was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by one or more fellow soldiers in his barracks during the early morning hours of July 5th, 1999. Serious concerns have been raised that this alleged murder may have been an anti-gay hate crime.

On Friday, July 9, 1999, SLDN initiated a preliminary investigation into the circumstances surrounding PFC Winchellís death after being contacted by concerned local residents and military members. Our investigation is in its initial stages and we have not yet drawn 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-grounded and deserve full investigation.

We are concerned, however, that the Army has failed to give this potential aspect of the crime the serious attention it deserves. When asked last week about the possibility of a hate crime, Public Affairs Officers Major Pamela Hart and Master Sergeant Derryl Fields reportedly told journalists that the Army had found no concrete evidence to support this concern. We hope that the Army will be candid about the possibility of this being a hate crime so as not to appear to be less than forthcoming.

We are also concerned that Army spokespersons may jeopardize the full prosecution of this case by mischaracterizing its nature. Major Hart and Master Sergeant Fields have described this crime as a "physical altercation," suggesting that this murder was carried out in the heat of passion, in an incident of mutual initiation by the alleged perpetrator and his victim. This representation was made notwithstanding the fact that the prosecution had already charged one soldier in this case with premeditated murder. We are concerned that statements seeming to contradict charges of premeditated murder could be injurious to the full prosecution of this crime.

We are also concerned by reports that Fort Campbell officials have downplayed the seriousness of this incident by failing to fly the flag at half staff, as is the reported practice in other cases involving the death of a soldier. Soldiers at the base report to us that they are also concerned that battalion leaders waited until Friday to bring the unit together to make it clear they did not condone violence.

The public statements of Fort Campbell officials, together with the commandís apparent slow response in condemning violence, have exacerbated the fears of Fort Campbell soldiers for their own safety. Gay soldiers, in particular, are terrified that they will become targets of violence.

The Armyís handling of the case to date raises serious concerns about how the Army will investigate the alleged murder. We are particularly concerned 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 investigation under "Donít Ask, Donít Tell, Donít Pursue." We seek assurances from your office that this investigation not be used to ferret out potential 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 ask to meet with you at the earliest possible date to address the concerns surrounding the alleged murder of PFC Winchell.

Sincerely,

Michelle M. Benecke
Co-Executive Director
C. Dixon Osburn
Co-Executive Director

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