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Parole denied for man who murdered gay sailor in 1992

Commission receives more than 100 messages opposing release of killer

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Terry M. Helvey pleaded guilty to the 1992 murder of gay Navy sailor Allen Schindler.

A five-member U.S. Parole Commission voted 4-1 on March 7 to deny parole to a former U.S. Navy sailor sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 anti-gay murder of fellow U.S. Navy sailor Allen Schindler while the two were stationed in Japan.

The decision by the Parole Commission, which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, came 18 days after a Feb. 17 hearing in which one of its members issued a recommendation that former Navy Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey be approved for parole and released from prison Oct. 26, 2022.

Schindler’s surviving mother, sister, and niece, who strongly opposed parole for Helvey, noted that the one commission member’s recommendation for parole marked the first time such a recommendation had been made in the 29 years since Helvey pleaded guilty to the murder in exchange for an offer by military prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.

After becoming alarmed that the commission might approve parole, for which Helvey has applied and for which he has been denied nearly every two years for the past 20 years, the Schindler family members immediately reached out to the LGBTQ community and others asking people to send email messages and letters to the Parole Commission opposing parole for Helvey.

Kathy Eickhoff, Schindler’s sister, told the Washington Blade that a Parole Commission staff member informed her that the commission received at least 110 email messages and over 30 phone calls from members of the community expressing strong opposition to parole for Terry Helvey.

In response to a request by the Blade for the reason why the Parole Commission denied parole for Helvey at this time, Nicole Navas Oxman, a commission spokesperson, said the “USPC found that one of the criteria to deny parole at 18 U.S.C. Section 4206 (d) applied to his case.”

Navas Oxman was referring to a section of the federal law that sets criteria for eligibility for parole for people serving in federal prisons. The section to which she referred says prisoners serving a term of more than 45 years, including a life term, become eligible for parole after serving 30 years.

But the section also states, “Provided, however, that the Commission shall not release such prisoner if it determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules and regulations or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime.”

Navas Oxman did not say which of the two disqualifying criteria the Parole Commission invoked to deny parole for Helvey. But Eickhoff, Schindler’s sister, has said that Helvey has cited his good behavior and involvement in prisoner education and mentoring programs as reasons why he should be approved for parole. That would suggest that the Parole Commission denied parole for Helvey because it believes there’s a “reasonable probability” that Helvey could commit a crime if he’s released.

When asked if the large number of email messages and phone calls from members of the community opposing parole for Helvey played a role in the commission’s decision, Navas Oxman said only, “The commission made its decision after reviewing all of the information in his case file.”

At the time of the murder, Naval investigators disclosed that Helvey and another one of Schindler’s shipmates, Airman Charles Vins, attacked Schindler on Oct. 27, 1992, in a men’s bathroom at a public park in Sasebo, Japan near where their ship, the U.S. Bellow Wood, was docked.

According to a Naval investigative report, a witness saw Helvey repeatedly stomp on Schindler’s head and body inside the bathroom. An autopsy later found Schindler’s head and face were crushed beyond recognition, requiring that his body be identified by a known tattoo on his arm.

The attack and murder took place after Schindler, 22, had been subjected to harassment and threats of violence on board the ship when rumors surfaced on the ship that Schindler was gay, and the ship’s captain ignored Schindler’s request for protection, according to information that surfaced after the murder.

One of the Naval investigators presented evidence that Helvey admitted to disliking Schindler when Helvey was interrogated shortly after his arrest. “He said he hated homosexuals,” the investigator said in a report, quoting Helvey as saying, “I don’t regret it. I would do it again…He deserved it.”

Helvey was sentenced to life in prison after he accepted the offer to plead guilty with prosecutors saying they would not seek the death penalty, which could have been pursued under military law.

Vins, the other sailor implicated in Schindler’s murder, argued through his lawyer that he was an accomplice to the murder but did not physically assault Schindler. He pleaded guilty to three lesser charges, including failure to report a serious crime, as part of a separate plea bargain offered by prosecutors. He was sentenced to one year in prison and was released after serving 78 days.

Eickhoff, Schindler’s sister, said she, her daughter, Cheryl Lagunas, who was 7 years old when her beloved uncle was murdered, and their mother, Dorothy Clausen, have been going through a parole hearing ritual every two years for nearly the past 20 years by submitting testimony and often attending the parole hearings for Helvey to express their opposition to the parole.

The most recent hearing on Feb. 17, in which one of the Parole Commission members recommended parole, was held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Ill., where Helvey is currently being held as an inmate.

“I just want to thank everyone who wrote a letter for my Uncle Allen,” Cheryl Lagunas stated in a March 7 Facebook posting. “I am so happy to share that today Terry Helvey was DENIED PAROLE…I am overjoyed and so appreciative of all of you,” she continued.

“Terry Helvey will have another parole hearing in 2 years, 2024. So, I’m hoping to count on you guys again, for this unfortunately [is] never over,” she wrote. “All my love to you guys xoxo – Cheryl.” Next to her name, Cheryl Lagunas added a drawing of a hamburger wrapped inside a bun with cheese on it.

“The cheeseburger after her name is because Allen called her his little cheeseburger,” her mother told the Blade.

Longtime gay activist Michael Petrelis of San Francisco has been credited with leading efforts to pressure the Navy into releasing information about the Schindler murder, the anti-gay threats that Schindler faced on his ship and calls for the Navy to officially confirm that the motive of the killing was anti-gay hatred that activists say the Navy withheld at the time of the murder.

Much of the information that observers believe the Navy withheld from the public was confirmed in a 900-page Naval investigative report that Petrelis released in 2015 after he obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The brutal death of Allen Schindler for daring to live authentically as a gay member of the U.S. Navy before the ban on LGBT people was lifted, at the hands of Terry Helvey, who pleaded guilty to the murder, demands that for justice to be served he remain incarcerated,” Petrelis said in a statement.

“It would have been an outrage if the U.S. Parole Commission granted him release around the date 30-years ago when Schindler was killed out of hatred,” Petrelis said. “My thoughts are with Allen’s mother Dorothy, sister Kathy and their family.”

Eickhoff said that during his Feb. 17 parole hearing, Helvey, who is now 50 years old, expressed remorse as he has in previous parole hearings for what he did 29 years ago and claimed he is a different person.

She said the parole commission member who conducted the hearing stated that 30 years of incarceration in a federal prison, which Helvey will have completed on Oct. 26 of this year, when the commission member recommended he be approved for parole, sometimes becomes a threshold for when a prisoner becomes eligible for parole under federal law.

Noting that she and her family will once again go through the process of opposing parole for Helvey in 2024, Eickhoff added, “Twenty-nine years ago, we thought that was it” when Helvey was sentenced to life in prison. “But no, that’s not what happened.”

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Tennessee

6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to police who identifies as transgender

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Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of the Nashville Metro Police Department)

In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at the Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to the chief, who identifies as transgender.

According to Drake, three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm three children and two adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (the two adults) and (the three children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All five patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age nine.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation and Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that U.S. Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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The White House

Vice president to visit three African countries that criminalize homosexuality

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week

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Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Accra, Ghana, on March 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Harris' Twitter page)

Vice President Kamala Harris this week will visit three countries in Africa that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Ghana on Sunday. They will travel to Tanzania and Zambia before returning to the U.S. on April 2.

Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Washington Blade last week reported LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that, would among other things, further criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and make advocacy on their behalf and allyship illegal. A Ghanaian representative who spoke during a March 20 meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work said the body is not an appropriate venue to discuss them.

“You know that a great deal of work in my career has been to address human rights issues, equality issues across the board, including as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Harris on Monday during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting and fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally. This is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change.”

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu, with whom Harris is scheduled to meet on Thursday, last month described LGBTQ rights as “imported cultures.” The Tanzanian government has also banned children’s books from schools because of their LGBTQ-specific content. 

The State Department in 2019 recalled then-U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the Zambian government sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple who had been convicted of violating the country’s colonial-era sodomy law and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Then-Zambian President Edgar Lungu later pardoned the couple. Current Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, which whom Harris will meet on March 31, last September reiteated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Harris arrived in Africa less than a week after Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ and intersex people. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the measure if signed “would impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

“The bill is one of the most extreme anti LGBTQI+ laws in the world,” she said on March 22 during her daily press briefing. “Human rights are universal — no one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or who they love.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call that previewed Harris’ trip that she “is very much focused on opportunities in Africa and a positive message and the great things we can do in partnership with African countries. And you’re going to really see that as the theme of the trip, given Africa’s role in the world and what we think can be done with Africans, for the sake of Africans in the United States and the rest of the world.” 
 
“But that doesn’t mean that she would shy away from discussing difficult issues, and you know her track record on the LGBTQ issue,” added the official. “She spent her whole career fighting for rights of overlooked and marginalized people, including LGBTQ people.” 

The official further stressed the Biden-Harris administration “is very clear about the right for all people to live free of harm and discrimination and to realize their full potential and to fully participate in society.”  

“The vice president has been clear about that throughout her engagements in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it won’t be any different when she is in Africa,” added the official. “We have said, you know, including in recent days — expressed the concerns we have about certain developments that we’ve seen on the African continent, whether it’s laws or practices that are anti-LGBTQ. And that’s not consistent with what this administration stands for.” 

The official also said they “don’t think that is a choice between taking a firm stand on that set of really important issues and the big positive opportunity that the vice president sees in Africa and she’s going to emphasize on this trip.”

The Blade will provide further updates of Harris’ trip as they become available.

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New Mexico

LGBTQ protections added to N.M. Human Rights Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 on Friday

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs House Bill 7 on March 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For transgender residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that HB 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said in a statement.

State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), the sponsor of HB 31, noted that the measure will benefit trans New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure.

“Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights.

On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Grisham as she signed HB 7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said Ortez, who co-sponsored HB 7. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and nonbinary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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