TOKYO -- A sailor charged with battering a gay shipmate to death entered no plea yesterday during the first hearing in his closely watched court-martial, as the U.S. Navy disclosed that the defendant has said he was fending off an unwelcome sexual advance.
The sailor, Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 20, said he was seeking a civilian lawyer for his criminal court-martial, which appears likely to drag out many of the stereotypes and arguments against permitting homosexuals in the military.
Airman Helvey's military lawyer, Air Force Maj. Bernard Doyle, made it clear yesterday that homosexuality would play an important role in the court-martial. He asked the judge, Cmdr. David P. Holcombe, whether he had opinions on the subject. The judge responded, "Yes, I do have opinions, but they are not strong."
Airman Helvey, a powerfully built man about 6 feet 4 inches tall, is charged with premeditated murder in the death of Seaman Allen R. Schindler, 22, who was about to be discharged after having told his commander that he was homosexual.
Another sailor, Airman Charles E. Vins, 20, also was charged in connection with the beating. He pleaded guilty in November to failing to report a serious crime and resisting arrest. Under a plea agreement, he received a light sentence in return for testimony against Airman Helvey.
Seaman Schindler, of Chicago Heights, Ill., was beaten to death in a public restroom at a park near the U.S. Navy base at Sasebo, in southwestern Japan, and Airman Helvey has been quoted as telling investigators that Airman Schindler had made an unwanted homosexual advance.
Friends of Seaman Schindler have said that in the days before he was killed he complained that as word of his homosexuality spread aboard his ship, the USS Belleau Wood, he was harassed by other sailors.
Gay rights groups have described the case as an example of gay-bashing. Both sides in the debate over President Clinton's effort to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military have seized on the killing to make their arguments.
During yesterday's hearing at the U.S. Navy headquarters at Yokosuka, near Tokyo, the court-martial was scheduled to continue April 27. It will be held at Yokosuka.