A military jury deliberated for a little more than an hour Wednesday before convicting an Army private of premeditated murder in the beating death of a fellow soldier rumored to be homosexual.
The trial raised issues about the harassment of gays in the military.
A sentencing hearing for Pvt. Calvin N. Glover will begin Thursday. The conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison; the jurors will decide whether he ever will be eligible for parole.
Glover, 18, of Sulphur, Okla., showed no reaction as the verdict was read. His mother, Kathy Roundtree, started weeping moments later.
"The trial counsel [prosecutor] did a good job with the evidence he had," said Michelle M. Benecke, co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The group monitors the Defense Department's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays.
Hoping he would receive a shorter prison sentence if not convicted of premeditated murder, Glover on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unpremeditated murder in the July death of Pfc. Barry L. Winchell, 21.
But Army prosecutor Capt. Gregg Engler pressed on with the court-martial, seeking to prove the more serious charge.
Military prosecutors said Glover's hatred of homosexuals motivated the killing. Defense lawyers argued that another infantryman, Spec. Justin R. Fisher, 25, who is charged as an accessory, goaded Glover into the attack.
Glover used a baseball bat to crush Winchell's skull as he slept on a cot at their Fort Campbell barracks early on July 5. The brutal attack splattered blood on a wall 15 feet away.
Glover admitted to beating Winchell, who died a day later on July 6, but said he did not mean to kill the native of Kansas City, Mo.
During testimony on Wednesday, Staff Sgt. Michael Kleifgen said complaints about the harassment of Winchell in the months prior to his death were not investigated by superiors who cited the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Sometime in March, Fisher allegedly started spreading rumors among members of their unit that Winchell was gay. Fisher often harassed Winchell and once, during a scuffle, struck him with a dustpan, resulting in stitches on Winchell's head, Kleifgen said.
Kleifgen, their section leader at the time, said he regularly spoke with Fisher and Winchell about their differences. The problems continued, however, so the matter was presented to a first sergeant.
"He said, basically, there was nothing we could do because of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," Kleifgen said.
He also got nowhere pursuing the issue with the company commander and filed a complaint with the post's inspector general, who investigates complaints of command wrongdoing, sexual harassment and other matters.
Benecke said her group has received complaints from some Fort Campbell soldiers saying their leaders had made comments making light of Winchell's death.
"This is outrageous," she said. "It indicates a leadership problem at high levels."
The Army would not comment on her remarks, citing Glover's trial.
Winchell, Glover and Fisher all served in the 502nd Infantry Regiment's 2nd Battalion. The post is on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line about 50 miles northwest of Nashville, Tenn.
Fisher, of Lincoln, Neb., will be court-martialed on Monday. In addition to allegedly encouraging the attack, he is accused of lying to Army investigators.
In October, President Clinton signed an executive order increasing penalties for hate crimes in the military justice code and allowing a sentencing authority to hear evidence that a violent crime was based on race, color or sexual orientation.
However, the order applies to crimes committed after Nov. 30.