Sailor Sentenced To Life In Prison For Killing Homosexual Shipmate -- Killer Says He Disliked Victim For `Bossing Him Around'
YOKOSUKA, Japan - An emotionally charged case that sparked debate over gays in the U.S. military came to a tearful conclusion today when a sailor was sentenced to life in prison for killing a homosexual shipmate.
The victim's mother sobbed "thank you" when the eight-member jury of Navy and Marine officers announced the sentence.
Terry Helvey, 21, was impassive as he was sentenced for beating Allen Schindler to death in a public restroom near the ship's home port in Sasebo, southern Japan.
Helvey, of Westland, Mich., had pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit great bodily injury in the Oct. 27 killing. The plea was part of a pretrial agreement under which a possible charge of premeditated murder, a crime punishable by death, was dropped.
Schindler was a 22-year-old shipmate of Helvey's on the USS Belleau Wood. At the time of his death, he was awaiting discharge after having told his superiors he was a homosexual.
Helvey said he did not kill Schindler, of Chicago Heights, Ill., because the victim was gay, but the defense gave no other motive for the attack.
Helvey will be turned over to federal authorities. The military said there was no date for when - or if - he might be eligible for parole.
The case received widespread attention, coming as Washington debates lifting a ban on homosexuals in the military. Gay-rights activists say Schindler's slaying exemplifies what they see as pervasive hatred of homosexuals in the armed forces.
Mike Petrelis, a gay-rights activist who attended the trial, applauded the judgment. "This life sentence sends a message that homophobic violence will be punished by the U.S. military," he said.
Prosecutors had demanded a life sentence. The defense declined to recommend a sentence, but urged that 20 years be "a baseline for discussion."
The prosecution suggested to the military jury in its closing statement today that Helvey had lied when he told investigators that Schindler's homosexuality was a motive for the beating.
A military document released after the sentencing said Schindler's homosexuality was a partial but not complete cause of Helvey's dislike.
The document, signed by Helvey, said Helvey already had negative feelings about Schindler before he found out about his homosexuality.
The account says Helvey resented Schindler for "bossing him around" aboard the Belleau Wood, and this dislike grew.
A psychiatrist testified earlier this week that abuse Helvey allegedly suffered as a child might have triggered violent rage. Helvey's brother, Wade, testified their stepfather had beaten the children.
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