Allen Schindler as Schindler’s mother Dorothy Hajdys, now Clausen, of Chicago, address a demonstration at the Pentagon protesting the ban on gays in the military, Monday, April 26, 1993, Washington, D.C., flanked by Allen Pemberton, holding up a photo of her son, and Jim Jennings. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

LOU CHIBBARO JR.  | Washington Blade
Courtesy of National LGBT Media Association

Allen Schindler

Former Navy Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, the man who pleaded guilty to the 1992 murder of gay Navy sailor Allen Schindler, has been denied parole by a five-member U.S. Parole Commission. The commissioner voted 4-1 on March 7 to deny the parole.

Helvey was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, which occurred in a bathroom in Japan, where the two were stationed at the time.

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 the commission members issued a recommendation that Helvey be approved for parole and released from prison Oct. 26 this year.

Schindler’s mother, sister and niece, who strongly opposed parole for Helvey, noted that the recommendation for parole marked the first time such a recommendation had been made in the 29 years since Helvey pleaded guilty 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 opposing Helvey’s request.

Following her son’s murder, Dorothy Hajdys — now Dorothy Clausen — became well known for her efforts to make sure Helvey was charged, tried and convicted, and for speaking out against the military’s then-ban on LGBTQ servicemembers. The Navy didn’t tell her that Allen (had been killed by shipmates until the funeral. And she only learned it was a gay-bashing when a reporter from Pacific Stars and Stripes called her and told her. She has said that she had to overcome her own homophobia, but she fought diligently to make sure her son’s killers saw justice.

A made-for-TV movie called Any Mother’s Son, starring Bonnie Bedelia as Hadjys Clausen, aired in 1997. In an interview with the Deseret News when that movie came out, Hadys Clausen said, “I did have this fear for gays. I didn’t believe Allen was gay. I believed that all gays had to be weirdos.” But, she added, after learning that the Navy was not keeping her informed of progress in the case and had, in fact, cut a deal with Airman Charles Vins, another one of Schindler’s shipmates who had been involved in the attack, “the rage just built up inside of me and I knew that there was something that had to be done. I may not agree with a lot of things. I may not agree with who some of you sleep with. But that doesn’t give me a right to kill you. And that didn’t give Terry Helvey and Charles Vins a right to kill my son.”

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 more than 30 phone calls from members of the community expressing strong opposition.

In response to a request by the Blade for the reason why the Parole Commission denied parole for Helvey, commissioner spokesperson Nicole Navas Oxman 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 that 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. 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 a 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 after 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 during interrogation to disliking Schindler. “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 to avoid the death penalty.

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, said she, her daughter, Cheryl Lagunas, who was 7 years old when her beloved uncle was murdered, and her mother Dorothy 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.”

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, 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 [when Helvey was sentenced to life in prison], we thought that was it. But no, that’s not what happened.”