“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Those are the words of wisdom often given to the victims of harassment both as children and adults. While it’s true that words can’t cause physical harm, bullying almost always escalates to something worse than name calling.
Even among the ranks of the armed forces, there are those that feel the need to bully their fellow brothers and sisters at arms. And just like with childhood bullying it can often escalate. But in an environment geared toward readiness for battle, that escalation may have much more serious consequences than anything that could happen on a playground…
I Want to Serve
On the edge of his teenage years, Barry wanted to do something worthwhile with his life. The Kansas City, Missouri native decided he wanted to serve his country, so told his parents and his high school sweetheart that he was enlisting in the Army.
A Letter From Home
The following year, Barry was a Private First Class assigned to the 2/502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He and his girlfriend had tried to maintain a long distance relationship but while he was stationed in Kentucky, he got a letter from her…
Unfortunately the letter Barry got was a “Dear John” letter — a letter written to a soldier stationed far away from their significant other, informing them that they’d been left for another lover. Barry was crushed. Since high school, he imagined that he and his sweetheart would spend the rest of their lives together. Now that dream was dead.
Barry soldiered on, in every sense of the word, devoting himself to becoming a better soldier and trying to put his heartbreak behind him. Things were going well for him until a year later when, one night, his roommate Spc. Justin Fisher suggested that they go out to one of Nashville’s many downtown bars…
They made an interesting choice about which nightclub to go to, eventually choosing The Connection, an LGBTQ friendly bar that featured transgender dancers. While they were there, Barry met a transgender showgirl named Calpernia Addams.
Despite the fact that Pfc. Barry Winchell identified as straight, he and Calpernia hit it off that evening. They kept in touch and shortly after the night they met at the Connection, Barry and Calpernia began to date…
Spc. Fisher had a problem with his roommate Barry dating Calpernia. He started to spread the news of Pfc. Winchell’s around the army base, even going so far as to spread a nickname him: the f****t.
Can’t Say Anything
Because this was during the years of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, there was little Pfc. Winchell could do. If he mentioned the rumors or the increasingly sinister abuse he was the subject of to his superiors, he would immediately be discharged from the Army. Instead, he kept his mouth shut, not telling his commanding officers or even his girlfriend Calpernia…
Fourth of July
Pfc. Winchell simply went about his business while doing his best to ignore the harassment and abuse he was receiving, even keeping his mouth shut about the occasional physical altercations he’d had with Spc. Fisher, who was still his roommate. Then, one Fourth of July weekend, Pfc. Winchell and some other soldiers had been drinking heavily at a BBQ.
Calling You Out
After hours of beers and conversation, Pfc. Winchell accused another soldier, Pvt. Calvin Glover, of being a fraud. Pvt. Glover liked to boast but had a bit of a reputation for stretching the truth when he told his stories. Pvt. Glover took Pfc. Winchell’s accusation to heart and the two quickly found themselves in a fist fight…
Pfc. Winchell didn’t just win the fight, it was completely one sided. Winchell had struck Glover several times, then pinned him down without Glover landing a single blow. After they were separated, Winchell tried to apologize but Pvt. Glover had been humiliated. “It ain’t over,” he said. “I will f***ing kill you. We ain’t through.”
Spc. Fisher decided that in Pvt. Glover, he’d found a potential ally in his campaign against Pfc. Winchell. After Pfc. Winchell went up to his room, Spc. Fisher spent the rest of the afternoon pestering and goading the 19-year-old Pvt. Glover. Asking what kind of man gets his butt kicked by “a f****ing f****t” like Winchell, Fisher was trying to instigate Glover into doing something…
As Pvt. Glover had more and more beers as the hours went by, Spc. Fisher continued picking at him until he was furious about his humiliation at the hands of Pfc. Winchell. He wanted to prove that he was a “real man” and to take revenge on the man who had threatened his masculinity.
So when, in the early hours of July 5th, Spc. Fisher took a Louisville Slugger baseball bat out of his locker and placed it into Pvt. Glover’s hands, he was more than willing to use it. Pvt. Glover took that bat into Spc. Fisher and Pfc. Winchell’s shared room…
On The Walls and Ceiling
When he opened the door to their room, Pvt. Glover saw Pfc. Winchell sleeping soundly on his cot, just by the door. He raised the baseball bat above his head, then brought it down with all of his force, again and again, splattering blood onto the walls and ceiling of the room.
Plan to Hide Involvement
The blows Pfc. Winchell received to his head broke his skull in a number of places but somehow, he was still alive. Fisher and Glover devised a plan to make it seem as if Fisher had just discovered Winchell’s critically wounded body and he was quickly transported to a nearby hospital…
Things Fall Apart
Unfortunately, Winchell’s injuries were too severe and he died of his wounds the next day. Fisher and Glover’s plan to distance themselves from the murder quickly fell apart when investigators found blood-stained clothing in Glover’s room and, under questioning, Fisher all but admitted assisting in the murder, even going so far as to say “he’d just hung himself for conspiracy” after his interrogation. He wasn’t far off.
Glover was convicted of Winchell’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Fisher was also initially charged with murder but because the case against him wasn’t as strong, he was offered a plea deal to serve 12.5 years in prison for lesser charges, which he took. But Glover and Fisher weren’t the only ones responsible for Winchell’s death…
Policy At Fault
Winchell’s parents, Wally and Patricia Kutteles tried to push for a re-examination of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, which they believed was at least partly to blame for their son’s death. If it hadn’t been for the toxic, anti-gay atmosphere on the military base, things between Fisher and Winchell would likely have never escalated to the point they did.
There was also national attention given to the policy when just one day after Glover had been sentenced, then President Clinton called the don’t ask, don’t tell policy “out of whack,” saying that the military’s poor implementation of the policy had been a contributing factor