YOKOSUKA, Japan -- The mother of a homosexual U.S. sailor who was beaten to death last October by a shipmate sobbed, "Thank you, thank you" yesterday when the confessed killer was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The life sentence was the maximum that could have been applied in the court-martial at the headquarters of the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Airman apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 21, had pleaded for leniency and offered a tearful apology to his victim's mother, Gladys Hajdys. He showed no emotion when the jury of eight Navy and Marine officers pronounced sentence after deliberating for only three hours.
"Thank you," Mrs. Hajdys said after the sentence was passed.
The beating and stomping death of Seaman Allen R. Schindler, a 22-year-old homosexual, embarrassed the Navy -- which allegedly originally tried to cover up the crime -- and became a rallying cause for gay rights activists. The case also attracted attention because it coincides with President Clinton's uphill struggle to end the ban on homosexuals in the military.
At the outset of the four-day trial, Helvey pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder in a court-approved plea deal in which the prosecution agreed to withdraw the original charge of premeditated murder, which carries the death penalty.
"I sentence you to confinement for the rest of your natural life," intoned the Navy judge, Cmdr. David Holcombe, as Helvey stared impassively into the middle distance.
Although he confessed to the crime, Helvey's motives are unclear. The evidence suggests he harbored a deep loathing for gays, but Helvey told the court that Seaman Schindler's homosexuality was not the reason why he attacked his shipmate last Oct. 27 near the U.S. naval base in Sasebo, Japan.
Helvey's account contradicted what he told naval investigators trying to piece together the crime.
Naval investigator Kevin Privette testified Tuesday that Helvey said he hated homosexuals and had not the slightest remorse over the killing.
The victim, Seaman Schindler, was awaiting discharge from the Navy after informing the commander of his vessel, the amphibious assault carrier Belleau Wood, that he was a homosexual.
Airman Schindler had apparently suffered harassment from shipmates aboard the Belleau Wood.