The sentence was uttered on July 21 by the Army's chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki -- the man charged with guiding the rank and file into the 21st century. But it wasn't meant for the Kutteleses. At the time Shinseki made the comment, they were at home in their blue-trimmed ranch house near Bannister Mall, and Shinseki was standing before a phalanx of reporters in Washington, D.C.
When Pat heard the statement -- on TV, just like everyone else -- she thought to herself, "It's about time." Months earlier, she had become convinced that the Army was responsible for her son's death. Fueled by a desire for justice, she and her husband had taken to the national stage, making countless appearances in the media and at political rallies across the country. The court of public opinion had long since handed the Army a guilty verdict. With Shinseki's words, it appeared the Army was finally stepping forward to accept it.
But Shinseki's statement was a hollow victory in an ongoing battle, one the Kutteleses now believe they'll never win. Shinseki's words were barely as substantive as the breath that bore them. They were but a small admission in a long press conference heralding the findings of the Army's five-month investigation of Fort Campbell, the base where Barry was killed. Shinseki spent most of the press conference describing the base's "strong command climate" in the months before the crime, which had occurred a year earlier. Despite the Army's long-held conviction that high-ranking commanders bear responsibility for all the actions of their subordinates, the report yielded just one fall guy -- a midlevel sergeant found to be guilty of breeches of command codes. The Army found General Robert T. Clark, Fort Campbell's top commander, and all of his other subordinate officers, innocent.
The report, which climaxed what the Kutteleses believe is a concerted if thin cover-up of the command climate at Barry's base, served as a harbinger of things to come. Three months later, in a move that would define the unwelcome shape of the Kutteleses' new lives, the Army's legal department mailed them a letter rejecting the couple's only legal recourse, stating, in essence, the Army takes no responsibility for what happened to Private Winchell.
The Kutteleses' descent into war with the Army began when the phone rang early on the morning of July 5, 1999. Pat was making coffee when the call came in from a colonel on her son's base, which straddles the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. Barry had been kicked in the head by a booted foot, he told her. A call to a doctor in Nashville confirmed the worst: Barry had suffered irreparable brain damage and was struggling feebly against a coma; his chance of recovery was a distant miracle.
Nothing had prepared the Kutteleses for such news. Throughout his time in the service, their son had called once or twice each week to tell them how well he was doing, to share his dreams of a great military career. Less than a week before his death, he had told them he wanted to become a helicopter pilot, that he wanted to win soldier of the month or, better yet, soldier of the year. And he told them about the accolades he'd earned, being careful not to brag: "Could you imagine me getting medals?"
Pat and Wally boarded a plane at KCI Airport and lit out for Nashville. Army personnel picked them up at the airport, took them to a hospital, and led them up its stairs to the trauma unit. There they found Barry's life clinging to a respirator. They gazed down on his blackened eyes. The skin on his swollen face was stretched tight and shiny. A friend of Barry's came by, but the soldier couldn't summon the courage to see Barry in that condition.
They learned then that it wasn't a boot but a fellow soldier's baseball bat that had rendered their son comatose. But in the months after the Kutteleses' order to take Barry Winchell off life support, they would learn much more. In time, their son's murder would evolve from a random act of violence into the gruesome consequence of a deeply prejudiced and mismanaged military.
Growing up, Barry Winchell was a smart kid, but his intelligence was the kind seldom praised in public schools. He was a champ in Boy Scouts, netting handfuls of awards for his science experiments. But he fell behind in his classes. Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, he couldn't read until the third grade. Early on he wrote a paper that his parents still hold close in their memories. "If I could read like other kids, then they would know that I'm not dumb," it read.
While living with his family in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Barry dropped out of high school and enrolled in a technical school, where he thrived. On his way to earning a GED, he learned welding and hoped the skill would one day become a career.
The Army could help him realize his dream, he surmised, but he didn't take the decision to join lightly. He mulled it over for the better part of a year.
His mother was all for it. Pat Kutteles held the military in high esteem. Her father had been a veteran of World War II, both of her brothers had served in the Marines, her other son had served in the Army, and her husband, Wally, whom she'd married when Barry was 5, had fought in the Korean War. She believed that, true to the Army's ad slogan -- "Be all that you can be" -- the service would give her son the tools he'd need for successful manhood.
Barry turned to his stepfather for advice. Wally agreed with Pat that joining was a good idea. But he offered a caveat: "It isn't going to be as simple as you think. You have to stand up and be a man if someone yells at you and chews you out. You have to be able to take it."
"I can do that," Barry said confidently.
"I know you can," Wally said. "Go for it."
What Wally was referring to was discipline, an indispensable component of the Army's special relationship with its soldiers. According to the Army's own codes of conduct, the lives of its enlistees are regulated 24 hours a day -- on duty or off -- from the moment they join to the moment they're discharged. Soldiers' superiors ensure that their underlings follow all rules, pay their bills, keep their barracks clean, maintain decent hygiene, make it to formation each morning, and respect their fellow soldiers. When a soldier fails his duties, his superiors bear responsibility.
Over the course of the investigation into Barry's murder, the late-summer Article 32 hearings (the military equivalent of preliminary hearings), and last winter's trials, the Kutteleses' image of an honorable and well-disciplined Army was obliterated. Even more painful than the accounts of the crime -- Barry's parents sat through hours of testimony on the trajectory of his splattered blood -- were the tales of life on the base. Witness after witness revealed egregious acts of negligence that, were they to have occurred anywhere other than on an Army base, would have been grounds for an ironclad wrongful-death suit. From these testimonies, the Kutteleses came to understand that if the Army were operating the way it's supposed to, their son would still be alive.
Barry Winchell's superiors had numerous opportunities to protect him from the violence that would eventually take his life. Many of these arose out of Winchell's increasingly contentious relationship with his roommate, Justin Fisher, a ne'er-do-well from Nebraska. Fisher didn't care much for Winchell. Almost as soon as Winchell had arrived at Fort Campbell, Fisher had harassed him. It didn't take long for the chiding to erupt into violence.
During an early altercation, Fisher slashed Winchell's head with a dustpan, and Winchell's blood spurted out and streaked down a wall. Winchell's section leader, Staff Sergeant Michael Kleifgen, disciplined the two soldiers but allowed them to continue rooming together.
On the witness stand later, Kleifgen had to answer for this decision.
"Why wasn't something done to separate them into different rooms?" asked the military judge.
"Something was done, sir."
"What was done?"
"We talked to them on a daily basis," Kleifgen said. "They both said things were all right. While they were living together, we talked to both of them, sir. We had them apart talking to them, and we had them together and talked to them, sir."
Yet there was ample evidence to refute the two soldiers' claims of peace. It was well-known around camp that Fisher was proud of the beating. He forbade his victim from cleaning the blood off the wall, saying he wanted to keep it as a "badge" of what had happened. When the two would argue, Fisher would say, "Winchell, I'm gonna beat you like I did before. I'm gonna make you my bitch."
On another occasion shortly thereafter, Winchell's squad leader, Specialist Lewis Ruiz, witnessed Fisher's violence against Winchell firsthand. The three were part of a group enjoying a night in Nashville, an hour's drive from the base. They'd been club-hopping and wound up at an after-hours joint called The Underground, where they drank until sunup.
As they left and got ready to pile into Winchell's car, an argument broke out. Fisher had with him five beers he wanted to guzzle on the ride home. Ruiz, the ranking soldier in the group, told him that wasn't going to happen. Fisher exploded into rage. He tore off his shirt, threw beer bottles, and threatened to kick Ruiz's ass, saying it had been "a long time coming."
Ruiz defused the situation by striking a bargain. He offered that so long as Fisher refrained from drinking, the others in the group would agree to not smoke. Fisher hated the smell of cigarettes.
But once they were on the road, Winchell, who had also been drinking but was riding in the passenger seat, apparently decided that because it was his car he was going to light up.
Fisher went ballistic. He leapt up from the back seat to punch and choke Winchell. The car swerved across the road. From the witness stand, Ruiz recalled: "It was really tense. I mean, I was scared."
Fisher's companions subdued him, and he eventually passed out.
Ruiz, who had the authority to discipline the two soldiers and to recommend a separation, did nothing about the incident. To him, it was all part of life at Fort Campbell. He said on the witness stand that Winchell and Fisher had a "love-hate relationship" and that he'd never seriously considered separating the warring roommates. (His assessment is belied by a letter Winchell had earlier written to his girlfriend in Florida expressing hope about the coming of a new squad leader, Ruiz's predecessor: "He's going to move me out of my room with Fisher and put me in another room. Isn't that great? Sorry. Simple minds, simple pleasures.")
Yet in interviews during the investigation into Winchell's murder, Ruiz admitted that he'd noticed Barry had become depressed in the last months of his life. This was due to another hostile move Fisher had made against Winchell -- one that led to blatant misconduct by Winchell's superiors and that would eventually escalate to his bloody death.
Around the same time that he attacked Winchell for smoking in his own car, Fisher floated a rumor around camp that Winchell was gay. And it wasn't just chatter among the company grunts. Fisher took his news to the men in charge.
Fisher approached staff sergeants Kleifgen and Eric Dubielak and told them he had seen a private from the company giving head to a man in a gay bar in Nashville. (Fisher actually introduced Winchell to this bar, which Fisher frequented. Witnesses later testified that Fisher dallied with the men who paraded there in drag.)
The officers did some checking, eliminated various possibilities, and deduced that Fisher was talking about Winchell. They ran their theory by Fisher, and the young soldier answered with a smile.
This placed Winchell in a tough situation. He fell prey to the military's pseudo-logical homosexual conduct policy, known commonly as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It allows gays to join the military even though they're deemed unfit for service. Their passport is to lie. So long as they don't reveal their true sexual leanings, they can serve.
Winchell floated in a gray area that no one considered when the policy was pounded into place in 1993 after President Bill Clinton backed away from his campaign promise to allow gays to serve openly. All his life Winchell had dated girls. And while no evidence supports Fisher's claim to have caught Winchell in a homosexual act, the Kutteleses' son had grown smitten with a Nashville dancer named Calpernia Addams. Though Calpernia was, for all intents and purposes, a woman, she hadn't yet undergone the surgery that would complete the evolution from her past life as a man.
Whether Winchell violated his end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bargain is up for debate. But there's no question his superiors violated theirs.
After netting a smirking confirmation from Fisher, Kleifgen and Dubielak did more investigating. They conferred with their first sergeant for a briefing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The officer told them to talk to the soldiers in Winchell's unit, to see whether any of them wanted to write a formal statement about their fellow soldier's sexual tendencies. None did.
So Kleifgen pulled Winchell aside for a man-to-man chat. He asked whether anything was bothering him, whether he needed to talk to somebody. According to Dubielak, Kleifgen was "beating around the bush to find out if Winchell was gay."
Finally, Kleifgen flat-out asked him: "Are you gay?"
"No," Winchell said.
It was a clear violation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on more than one front. According to the policy, officers can launch an investigation into a soldier's sexual orientation only if there is credible evidence, not simply a rumor. Moreover, only a soldier's top commander or an appointed investigator can make the inquiry. Neither Dubielak nor Kleifgen was qualified.
But by then it didn't matter. Fisher had succeeded in his goal. Winchell became the camp's laughingstock. On a daily basis his fellow soldiers called him "faggot," "rope sucker," and "butt pirate." One of Winchell's fellow privates asked him, right in front of their section leader, "Do you take it in the ass or the mouth?"
Winchell's superiors saw no problem with this, despite the Army's own code of ethics, which commands soldiers to respect one and all. Every man and woman in the Army carries a copy.
In fact, the officers themselves joined in the hazing. On one occasion, the company's senior noncommissioned officer, First Sergeant Roger Seacrest, said, "I'm gonna get that little faggot."
By then, Kleifgen had done an about-face. Though he had joined the others in calling Winchell names, he stopped because he noticed that the soldier had become "down in the dumps." He began telling his subordinates "to knock it off" when he heard them harassing Winchell. Winchell was among the best in his company. "I wish I had 10 kids like him," Kleifgen once said.
Kleifgen was particularly upset by Seacrest's derogatory comments. He decided to go above Seacrest's head -- to Captain Daniel Rouse, under the commander's open-door policy -- and file a complaint.
"It was basically blown off," Kleifgen said later on the witness stand.
He filed an official complaint with the inspector general, but the inspector general did nothing.
The investigation under the direction of General Robert T. Clark, Fort Campbell's top commander, unearthed little about Kleifgen's efforts. The officers who later investigated Winchell's murder chose, by and large, not to pursue a deep line of inquiry about the base's antigay climate. They failed to ask Kleifgen about his attempts to file complaints on Winchell's behalf. (Kleifgen and Dubielak were interviewed for fewer than 15 minutes each.) The only time anyone questioned the actions of officers throughout the chain of command was during the murder trial, when a member of the jury -- a panel of Army officers -- asked Kleifgen what had been done about his complaint to the inspector general. Among the thousands of pages of documents amassed in the course of the Army's investigation and the military's murder trial, only a half dozen lines in a court transcript address what was or wasn't done about the harassment Winchell endured.
Later, in their ongoing effort to hold the Army accountable for Barry's death, the Kutteleses' lawyers tried to obtain copies of Kleifgen's formal complaint. But by then, the paperwork had mysteriously disappeared.
By all accounts, the man who killed Barry Winchell was a heavy drinker, though he'd have to celebrate three more birthdays before he could drink legally. Calvin Glover of Oklahoma had a sizable police record before he joined the ranks at age 17. Somehow he had been able to convince the recruiters to overlook his past and give him an age exemption. Once in, he liked to brag about all the crimes he'd committed and the drugs he'd done, spinning tales about weeklong benders on crystal meth. When his fellow soldiers grew tired of listening, he'd throw empty beer bottles against a wall to get their attention.
At least one of his officers spotted his problem early on and made an effort to straighten him out. Troy Rogers, Glover's section sergeant, counseled him once about his drinking. From time to time, usually on weekends, Rogers would drop by the barracks unannounced to check up on Glover.
But that wasn't enough to stop Glover from breaking civilian and military laws by continuing to drink as a minor. And Rogers certainly hadn't tried to stop the 18-year-old Glover from drinking on July 3, 1999, when the young soldier was soused and tearing off on one of his rants. That night, a bunch of the grunts were hanging around outside the barracks pounding beers. Glover was fired up. He told the gang about the drugs he'd taken and the banks he'd robbed.
Winchell was sitting at a picnic table listening to Glover go on and on. He'd had a couple of beers, but he'd grown tired of Glover's "bullshit stories." Winchell told him to take his "cherry, drunk ass" to bed.
Glover jumped up and got in Winchell's face. Fisher stepped between the two, but Glover insisted that he let them fight. Fisher backed away, and Glover swiped at Winchell's beer. Winchell said he didn't want to fight, but finally he gave in, delivering a handful of blows and wrestling Glover to the ground.
The other grunts separated them until a staff duty officer came by. The two shook hands in front of their superior. The officer didn't discipline them and didn't do anything about Glover's underage drinking.
Walking away, Glover said to Winchell, "It ain't over. I will fuckin' kill you." The officer did nothing about the threat.
Winchell walked away crying. "Why do people have to push me to that point?"
Without the aid of his superior officers, Winchell tried his best to amend the situation. That night he offered Glover some Southern Comfort, but Glover was too pissed to accept. The next day, the tension eased somewhat. While some of the soldiers gathered around a keg tapped in honor of Independence Day, Winchell taught Glover how to juggle.
But Fisher wasn't going to let the incident die. As the holiday wore on, he and Glover downed beer after beer, receiving several visits from staff duty officers who should have busted Glover for underage drinking. A staff duty officer from another division at the camp could hear the partying even from his distant post. He told the man on duty at Winchell's division to tell the soldiers to settle down, but they continued to carry on. By one account, Glover had 17 beers that day. And as the alcohol raced through his veins, Fisher needled him relentlessly: "I can't believe you got your ass kicked by a faggot."
The comments struck a nerve. Glover was, according to the testimony of his peers, a young man full of hate. On his right arm was a crude tattoo of an Aryan cross. He often professed disdain for "niggers and Jews."
Hours after the keg was empty and the last staff duty officer had made his rounds, Fisher goaded Glover into madness. The two were listening to heavy metal on Fisher's side of the room he shared with Winchell. Winchell was sleeping on a cot in the hall so he could keep an eye on Nasty, the company dog. Glover grabbed a bat and paced around. "I ought to go outside and fuck him up," he told Fisher.
"Then go for it," Fisher replied.
Glover pounded Winchell's head several times with the bat, sending spatters of blood all across the walls. Though Nasty was resting right beside Winchell's cot, no one in the densely populated barracks claimed to have heard anything.
Glover returned to the room and handed Fisher the bloody bat. Fisher cleaned it in the sink and hid it in his closet. "This just stays inside the family," Fisher told Glover. "You and me are in the family. Don't take this outside the family."
More than half an hour passed before they called for help. They considered dumping Winchell's body in the river. They searched around for the keys to Winchell's car, hoping to use it for their evidence dump. Finally, Fisher alerted the other soldiers.
One soldier tried to dial 911 but was unaware that the emergency service didn't work from the phones on the base.
On December 9, 1999, a military court sentenced Glover to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 60 years. At the end of Glover's trial, Pat Kutteles took the stand. By then, she'd heard a long list of failures by Winchell's commanders. They had missed opportunities to separate Winchell and Fisher. They hadn't punished Fisher for assaulting Winchell on the way back from Nashville. They had clearly violated Don't Ask, Don't Tell. They'd refused to do anything about the harassment Winchell suffered not only in front of his superior officers but also by them. They had ignored two formal complaints. They'd let an underage soldier with a criminal record drink to oblivion on the base. An officer had overlooked a direct threat on Winchell's life. After all that, the prosecuting attorney asked Pat, "Do you have any plans on how to cope with this tragedy, ma'am?"
"No," she said. "No. It is -- you take things a day at a time, and if you can't manage that, you take things a minute at a time. I try to take things, at the moment, a minute at a time."
On January 8, Fisher was court-martialed and given a plea bargain (in return for testifying against Glover, which he never did) that dropped the charges of murder and accessory after the fact. Pat Kutteles again took the stand, fielding the same question.
"Yes, I have plans," she said. "I think it would help me if I can try to make sure that no other mother's child has to go through this or be worried about going through this. I plan on working on that."
Shortly before Glover's trial in early December 1999, Wally Kutteles received a phone call. On the end of the line was Captain Gregg Engler, the lead prosecutor on his son's case. The officer told Wally he was hoping to strike a plea bargain with both Fisher and Glover.
"That's good," Wally replied. "Get them to snitch on each other. Tell them you'll put them both to death if they don't cooperate."
Engler said he was grateful the Kutteleses would consent to a plea but that he'd have to clear it with Fort Campbell's chief commander, General Clark. But Engler gave no indication of what the plea would entail. "I thought it would be 80 years for both of them," Wally tells the Pitch.
Two days later, Engler called again with news that Wally found appalling: The Army was offering Fisher 12 1/2 years if he would testify against Glover. "The general wants the bat man," Engler explained.
"You've already got him!" Wally fumed.
"Not really," said Engler, even though the Associated Press had quoted him months earlier as saying, "Private Glover murdered Pfc. Barry Winchell, and there's no doubt about that."
"What do you mean, 'Not really'?" Wally asked and then launched into the laundry list of evidence against Glover.
"To tell you the truth," Engler said, "the forensics sucks."
The call marked a turning point in the Kutteleses' lives; their grief was transforming into rage. At the time, they were preparing for an interview with 60 Minutes, the first of many appearances in the media. "I'm going to tell them the Army says the forensics sucks," Wally warned Engler.
For Wally, the plea bargain was nothing less than a bald-faced attempt by General Clark -- who was ultimately in charge of Glover's and Fisher's courts-martial -- to cover his tail. If Fisher had been forced to defend himself, Wally believes, a deeper truth about the command climate at Fort Campbell would have been revealed. After all, Fisher was the driver for the company's commander, Captain Rouse, and was thus afforded a lofty view of the goings-on at camp. Fisher had even hinted at his potentially damaging testimony while he'd awaited his own Article 32 hearings. He told the soldier guarding him that if he went down, he was going to take others down with him.
In time, the Kutteleses would receive even more ominous clues about the general's cover-up.
Almost immediately before striking the plea bargain, the Kutteleses later learned, Fisher's civilian defense attorney had subpoenaed e-mail correspondence between General Clark and his officers. The 12-1/2-year plea bargain -- which Pat later called "a travesty" -- effectively closed this line of inquiry. Tom Moshang, an attorney who had assisted in Glover's defense, tells the Pitch that his team made a similar request, which was met with a plea deal guaranteeing a possibility for parole. Glover's and Fisher's pleas, Moshang says, "made things a lot easier for (Fort Campbell officials) to say there's no problem in their all-male, gung-ho unit."
The Kutteleses also learned that just days after the murder, Sergeant Seacrest (who'd said about Winchell, "I'm gonna get that little faggot") had ordered the walls of the crime scene to be repainted.
In June, after both trials had run their course, Pat and Wally received a call from Staff Sergeant Kleifgen, who informed them that General Clark had ordered him to never speak with them again. The couple were shocked by this. By then they'd become good friends with Kleifgen. During the trials, they had shared dinner with him and his colleague, Staff Sergeant Dubielak, and the couple had expressed concerns that the two officers were being set up as fall guys in Fort Campbell's obvious breeches of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Fearing the consequences of even a short courtesy call, Kleifgen quickly advised the Kutteleses to obtain a copy of a videotaped recording of an interview he'd granted during an investigation. "Get that tape, and you'll get the whole story," he told them. Though the Kutteleses' lawyers have tried to obtain a copy under the Freedom of Information Act, they have been denied because, under the parameters of the investigation, such materials are deemed confidential.
The Kutteleses were not alone in their certainty that officers throughout Fort Campbell's chain of command were culpable. Two days after the military jury handed down Fisher's paltry sentence, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a Washington D.C.-based organization that assists gay members of the military, issued a call for Clark's resignation. According to military doctrine, the general is responsible for everything that happens under his command. "There is certainly speculation that the Fisher plea bargain was a deliberate move by the Army to preclude revelations about the chain of command at Fort Campbell, but we may never know the exact truth," the group's co-executive director, Michelle Benecke, tells the Pitch.
SLDN's call for Clark to step down apparently motivated the general. On that same day, January 8 of this year, Clark ordered an investigation to determine whether any member of Fort Campbell's command climate had violated Don't Ask, Don't Tell and whether the base fostered an antigay environment. "From the time soldiers report to Fort Campbell until they leave, leaders set an example through word and deed," he wrote in a press release announcing the investigation. "They teach their soldiers the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Our young soldiers absorb these values, and they develop into disciplined, selfless, hardworking citizen-soldiers who know something about individual sacrifice for the good of the team."
From the start, however, Clark's investigation had been skewed to produce such happy talk. To determine the command climate of Fort Campbell, the investigators gathered soldiers together in groups to talk about life on the base. But the groups weren't segregated by rank, so if soldiers felt compelled to disclose improprieties by their superiors, they would have to do so right in front of them.
For a more anonymous assessment, investigators asked more than 1,300 soldiers on base to fill out a survey form. The questionnaire began like a pep rally, offering three pages of "go team" statements with which the soldiers could either agree or disagree: "Most of the soldiers I know are proud to be in the Army"; "My personal values match well with Army values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage)"; "The values of most of the soldiers in my unit match well with Army values."
With this positive tone effectively set, the questions then turned toward possible problems on the base. But curiously, the survey contained not one query about slurs or harassment based on sexual orientation.
Perhaps the investigators didn't feel that such a question was necessary because signs of antigay sentiment were ubiquitous on the base.
In the six months after Winchell's death, 120 of Fort Campbell's more than 20,000 soldiers willingly succumbed to discharge under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This was the highest number of discharges among all military installations and a 600 percent increase for the base. According to officials at SLDN, who assisted in most of these discharges, many of the soldiers left out of concern for their personal safety.
One of them was Private Javier Torres, who feared that his fate might follow Winchell's. When he expressed concerns about the murder, fellow soldiers dismissed it, saying, "Who cares? He was a fag." Then the soldiers turned on Torres and asked whether he too were gay.
Another was Specialist Michael McCoy. A good friend of Winchell's, McCoy was devastated by Winchell's death, and his pain was exacerbated by a proliferation of antigay comments and graffiti (including a crude drawing of a baseball bat with the caption "fag whacker") on the base. He witnessed frequent jokes about Winchell's murder. During a training exercise, he heard an infantry soldier state that anyone who answered a question incorrectly was "a faggot."
"That's right," another soldier said, "and I will beat you with a baseball bat."
General Clark told the media he believed the discharged soldiers were looking for an easy way out and had lied about their sexual orientation. He scoffed at reports of harassment on the base and characterized them as media sensationalism. Yet at the same time as the investigation was taking place, Vanity Fair published a photograph of graffiti in a Fort Campbell bathroom declaring, "All fagets (sic) in the Army will be killed."
Affidavits obtained by the SLDN confirmed the hostile environment. Officials also discovered that soldiers on the base were afraid to report their findings to investigators because the inspector general openly admitted that he would turn in for discharge any gay soldiers discovered during the investigation.
To alleviate this, SLDN tried to take out a small classified ad in the post's newspaper, the Fort Campbell Courier, which would have listed a phone number soldiers could call to leave anonymous tips and testimony for the inspector general's team. But General Clark banned the ad's publication, directing the base's spokesman to explain: "We do not believe that running this advertisement is in the best interest of the command and the soldiers." (This was nothing new for SLDN. In the days after Winchell's death, Clark had also sought to ban the group's Web site from the base, claiming the dry clearinghouse of legal information was pornography.)
So it was no big surprise when, on July 17, 2000, the inspector general's verdict came in: "Through sensing sessions, interviews, and surveys across Fort Campbell, it was determined that the command climate at Fort Campbell before 5 July 1999 was a positive environment." It acknowledged only minor breeches of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and blamed the missed warning signs leading to Winchell's murder on a shortage of commanding officers. It offered only one guilty party, First Sergeant Roger Seacrest, who was not dishonorably discharged but instead demoted from a position of power.
Back in Kansas City, the Kutteleses were incensed. In light of what they'd learned at the trials for Winchell's murder, the report was an insult. It was even more stunning when compared with other events that had unfolded in the year since their son died.
By then the couple had become allies with SLDN and had closely followed the military's efforts to defuse the controversy that had flamed up from the day Winchell died until the report was released. It was as if their son had been reincarnated as a vast political melee and their lives were focused on its rightful resolution. From all directions came validation of their belief in the Army's guilt. President Clinton had declared that the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was "out of whack." Vice President Al Gore had vowed in a campaign speech to end the policy, calling it an "unacceptable form of discrimination." Hillary Clinton, campaigning for senator in New York, had made a similar pledge. Twenty-seven congressmen had publicly called for General Clark's resignation. (Clark was eventually transferred to the Pentagon and then on to another base in Texas.)
But when the Army's top man, General Shinseki, admitted "full responsibility" for Winchell's death, it was during the press conference that hailed the report as an exoneration of Winchell's commanders.
The evidence against Winchell's commanders, however, was more than anecdotal. Four months before the Fort Campbell report was released, the Pentagon revealed the results of its own military-wide survey. Unlike the one conducted on Winchell's base, this did contain specific questions about antigay slurs and harassment. The numbers stunned military leaders: 80 percent of those surveyed claimed to have heard derogatory comments among the rank and file. Even more -- 85 percent -- believed that the comments were tolerated within their units. Military officials could embrace only one positive statistic from the survey: 78 percent said they felt free to report antigay harassment without fear of retribution. Yet only 16 percent of those who had witnessed such harassment actually went on to report it.
SLDN's own report, which was released at about the same time, was just as damning. It revealed that antigay harassment had more than doubled in the year of Winchell's death. The group had received almost 1,000 reports of verbal abuse and physical assaults in 1999 -- a nearly 150 percent increase over the previous year. Many of the instances were hauntingly similar to those Winchell had suffered. In the Navy, Seaman Neil Salisbury was called "butt buster," "rump ranger," and "queer" and on one occasion was told by a peer: "I fucking heard about you, you faggot. I'm gonna kill you if I ever catch you looking at my ass." Air Force Staff Sergeant Patrick Wills walked away from his 15-year career in the military after hearing constant comments like "I hope no fag would try to hit on me, because I would kill him." A Navy seaman stationed in Florida was assaulted by his peers on base who yelled as they beat him, "I don't want any faggots in the Navy." Later, he found graffiti on his barracks door proclaiming, "Watch your ass or it's going to get fucked or beat." He also received late-night death threats by phone: "I'm gonna cap your ass."
The group documented 194 instances in which military officials had violated the Don't Ask portion of the homosexual-conduct policy, a 20 percent increase over the previous year."If this report is accurate," President Clinton said after its release, "I would like to see a substantial improvement this year. Substantial."
In response to these findings and the intense political pressure they provoked, military leaders began ordering changes. In early December 1999, just as Glover's trial was getting under way, the Pentagon ordered a military-wide retraining of soldiers on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. This effort was spotty at best and in some instances was an out-and-out disgrace. When Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edward Melton informed his soldiers at Twentynine Palms in California via e-mail of the required retraining, he wrote, "Due to the 'hate crime' death of a homo in the Army, we now have to take extra steps to ensure the safety of the queer who has told (not kept his part of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy). Commanders now bear responsibility if someone decides to assault the young backside ranger. Be discreet and careful in your dealings with these characters. And remember, little ears are everywhere." (Through contacts at SLDN, the Kutteleses obtained a copy of this correspondence and responded by drafting a letter to the colonel's general. Marine officials claim that Melton was disciplined, but SLDN has been unable to confirm it.)
On July 21, during his press conference, Shinseki unveiled a 13-point action plan to attack antigay harassment on Army bases. It professed an increased intolerance of harassment and directed Army commanders to assess their bases, retrain their soldiers, and continually monitor results. Above all, base commanders were to be held responsible for any misconduct arising from harassment on any of their bases.
For the Kutteleses, it was too little, too late. Armed with information, they braced for a late-July meeting in their home with Lieutenant General Michael Ackerman, who had overseen the Fort Campbell investigation. It was a courtesy call, to discuss the report's findings. The couple ordered barbecue, and when the general arrived in civilian clothes, Pat pulled out a legal pad filled with questions for him. She asked about how the investigation had been conducted, why soldiers had been interviewed in the presence of their superiors, why the surveys had contained not one question about antigay harassment. She asked about the continued harassment on Army bases, even at Fort Campbell, that they'd learned of through their contacts with SLDN. "Do you mean to tell me that the base where my son was killed is an oasis in the middle of everything that's going on in the Army?" she asked.
When Ackerman explained the 13-point plan and the changes that were occurring in the Army, Wally asked, "Well, if everything was okay, why do you need to make the changes?"
Ackerman had little to say. "He answered like a politician," Wally says.
After three hours, Ackerman said he needed to catch a plane.
Their hopes throttled by the Army's rigged investigation into the atmosphere at Fort Campbell, the Kutteleses clung to their last chance at holding the Army accountable for their son's death. In April they filed a $1.8 million wrongful-death claim. The compensation meant little to the Kutteleses. What they wanted was change. "We want to make them pay for it," Wally explains. "That way they have to make changes so no one else will sue them again."
Given the overwhelming evidence of the Army's prejudice and negligence, they would appear to have a slam-dunk case. For their counsel, the Kutteleses hired Charles Butler of the Washington powerhouse firm Covington and Burling (a recently deceased partner of the firm was Charles Ruff, who served as White House counsel during Clinton's impeachment hearings). "If we were against any other defendant in regular state or federal court," Butler says, "we would have a pretty good chance of winning."
But they're up against the Army, and even in this era when social change is increasingly propelled by the judicial branch, the Army remains the ultimate arbiter of its own laws. That's because of the Feres Doctrine, which arose out of a 1950 Supreme Court decision and states that although the military can be sued for negligence, it is exempt when it comes to soldiers who are killed or injured in the course of activities incident to military service. There's good reason for this. For one, military duty is inherently dangerous. Deaths, avoidable or otherwise, are bound to occur. And for the sake of national security, it's unwise to allow plaintiff lawyers to gain unhindered access to information on military procedures during the discovery phases of court trials.
But the Kutteleses' lawyers are arguing in their military claim that Winchell's murder did not occur in the course of military service. He was beaten in the middle of the night when most of the camp was off duty and celebrating a national holiday. The simmering hostility that led to the crime was fueled by blatant neglect of the Army's own codes of conduct.
There is no precedent for such a claim. "The courts, from the Supreme Court on down, have demonstrated a historic deference to the military," says Butler. "Their rationale is that any interference would disrupt military order, disrupt discipline. It's one area the courts simply refuse to get involved in."
That's why the Kutteleses chose to avoid the courts altogether. "If we tried to present it in a regular court, it would have been dismissed," Butler explains. Their only option, then, was to appeal to the military itself.
They filed a 30-page document with the Army's claims division, which typically handles disputes over civilian property that has been damaged in the course of military maneuvers. Their claim makes a case for wrongful death within the context of law in Kentucky, where Winchell was murdered. In drafting it, the Kutteleses' lawyers had to rely almost entirely on evidence derived from the criminal investigations of Glover and Fisher, which were conducted under the direction of General Clark, the man ultimately responsible for the command climate at Fort Campbell.
In late September, they got their answer from a lieutenant in the Army's legal department: "There is no legal basis to support payment of the claim."
The Kutteleses promptly filed an appeal with the Army, but they don't believe they'll ever find the closure they desperately long for. They believe that nothing short of wholesale change in the military will ensure that their son didn't die in vain.
Butler, however, is more hopeful, though he doesn't believe victory will come through the Army's legal division. "There's a chance the Secretary of the Army (Louis Caldera) will decide it's worth it to make a gesture and come up with some sort of settlement as a symbolic measure of accepting responsibility for the death of Barry Winchell," he says.
Accordingly, the Kutteleses requested a meeting with Caldera. "My son was an outstanding soldier devoted to serving the country he loved," she wrote to the secretary. "I hope that we can work together to make certain that no soldier will ever again be denied that opportunity."
Caldera has yet to reply. And time is running out. With a new presidential administration taking office after the first of the year, there's likely to be a change in the Army's top post. Army spokesman Major Ryan Yantis told the Pitch that although Caldera was traveling and unavailable for comment, "the thorough investigative and appropriate disciplinary processes that followed this tragedy and the directives concerning dignity and respect for all Army personnel issued in January 2000, as well as the significant prospective steps announced in July 2000, all clearly demonstrate the commitment of the Army leadership to this responsibility. The U.S. Army Claims Service has denied the claim, however, so there is no basis for a meeting to discuss its settlement."
In Kansas City, the Kutteleses are trying to make the most of the painful reconfiguration of their family, their son beaten down and reborn as political cause.
On a recent afternoon, Pat and Wally sat at their dining room table, chain-smoking as they have since their first trip to Nashville. Pat sifts through Barry's old wallet, which bears a U.S. Army seal. She finds the Army's code of ethics printed on a card, which every soldier must carry at all times. She reads it aloud -- "Integrity: Do what is right, legally and morally" -- and pauses. "They don't even follow their own integrity guidelines," she scoffs.