Witness: GI failed polygraph on killing — (The Courier-Journal)

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The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)

September 3, 1999

Author: CHRIS POYNTER, The Courier-Journal

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky—A Fort Campbell soldier failed a polygraph test that asked if he was involved in a plan to harm Pfc. Barry Winchell, according to testimony at an Army hearing that ended yesterday. Spc. Justin Fisher was given the so-called “lie-detector” test July 8, two days after Winchell died of massive head injuries from a beating with a baseball bat, Howard Sander, a military investigator, testified. Sander said the test indicated Fisher was deceptive about his role in the killing of the gay soldier.

The killing prompted the military to accelerate revisions to its  “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals in the service. Fisher’s defense attorney, Michael Love of Clarksville, Tenn., challenged the credibility of polygraphs, saying they are influenced by a person’s mental status and background. Testimony has indicted that Fisher, charged with being an accomplice in the slaying and lying to Army investigators, among other things, had been on medication for depression or attention deficit disorder.

The hearing ended after four days of testimony. It is the first step in determining whether Fisher will face a court-martial. The government’s lead prosecutor, Capt. Gregg Engler, never publicly laid out the circumstances behind the charges against Fisher. They are probably contained in statements by witnesses and others to the investigating officer, who oversaw the proceedings. The statements were not made public. Engler declined to comment after the hearing.

In court, however, he said the evidence against Fisher was sufficient to proceed to a court-martial.  The investigating officer will make a recommendation about the court-martial the commanding general at Fort Campbell will eventually decide whether Fisher will face one. Pvt. Calvin Glover, who is charged with premeditated murder, had a similar hearing earlier this month and is waiting to hear whether he’ll face a court-martial. Testimony from witnesses and statements from the Army’s lead prosecutor were that Glover killed Winchell and that Fisher encouraged Glover to strike Winchell. Fisher and Winchell were roommates. Winchell’s mother and stepfather, Patricia and Wally Kutteles of Kansas City, Mo., sat through most of the proceedings, where graphic details emerged about the killing and Winchell’s sexual orientation.

Wally Kutteles declined to comment after leaving the courtroom, saying he didn’t want to influence the case. He said his stepson was “one hell of a kid.” Five officials from Fort Campbell’s Criminal Investigation Division were called as witnesses yesterday, including Special Agent Alfred Brown, who was at Winchell’s autopsy. He said the 21-year-old’s head was swollen to distortion and his skull was shattered  “like an eggshell.” Spc. Steven Medinger, who is on recruiting duty in California and testified yesterday by phone, was a friend of Winchell’s. He said the killing had shaken him and other soldiers.  “Something like this should never happen, ever,” Medinger said, his voice booming over the speaker phone.  “There’s a friendship involved with the Army and something like this should never happen, ever.”

Copyright (c) The Courier-Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc. Record Number:  lou1999090312530925