Parole denied for man who murdered gay sailor in 1992

  • by Lou Chibbaro Jr., Washington Blade
  • Thursday March 10, 2022
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Navy sailor Allen Schindler was killed in 1992 by a Navy airman apprentice who was denied parole following a March 7 hearing. Photo: Courtesy Washington Blade
Navy sailor Allen Schindler was killed in 1992 by a Navy airman apprentice who was denied parole following a March 7 hearing. Photo: Courtesy Washington Blade

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 February 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 October 26.

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 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 October 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 February 17, in which one of the Parole Commission members recommended parole, was held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Illinois, where Helvey is currently being held as an inmate.

"I just want to thank everyone who wrote a letter for my Uncle Allen," 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, 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.

SF activist led efforts

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."

In 2000, Clausen, who was then known as Dorothy Hajdys Holman, spoke in San Francisco at the June ceremony for the pink triangle installation atop Twin Peaks. At that time she urged community members to write letters opposing parole for Helvey.

Eickhoff said that during the recent 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 October 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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The Bay Area Reporter contributed reporting on Schindler's mother appearing in San Francisco in 2000.