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U.S. Sailor Sentenced to Life Imprisonment in Murder

By Sam Jameson
Los Angeles Times

YOKOSUKA, Japan

A sailor who killed a gay shipmate was sentenced Thursday to life imprisonment after tearfully apologizing to the victim's mother and insisting he did not brutally beat her son to death because he was homosexual.

A jury of eight Navy and Marine officers imposed the sentence on Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 21, after deliberating only three hours.

Helvey showed no emotion as sentence was passed. The victim's mother, Dorothy Hajdys, said simply: "Thank you."

Wednesday, before the jury started its debate, Helvey faced Hajdys, the mother of Seaman Allen R. Schindler, 22, of Chicago Heights, Ill., and said, "I accept full responsibility for my actions. ... I wish your son were back. If I could redo this mess, I would. ...

"What happened that night was horrible. But I am not a horrible person. I put my life in your hands," he added, sobbing.

Helvey, 21, made the plea in an attempt to persuade the jury to reduce his punishment. Under a court-approved bargain in exchange for his pleading guilty to "inflicting great bodily harm," the maximum penalty is lifetime imprisonment. Under the original charge, it was death.

During Helvey's testimony, Navy Lt. Jacques Smith, a defense attorney, asked him directly, "Did you attack Schindler because he was homosexual?"

"No, I didn't. I did not attack him because he was homosexual," Helvey replied.

The apology contrasted sharply with testimony Tuesday by Kennon F. Privette, a Navy investigator. He told the jury of Helvey's admission to the slaying of Schindler during interrogation the day after the murder in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan, last Oct. 27.

"He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them," Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: "I don't regret it. I'd do it again. ... He deserved it."

Wednesday, Helvey offered no direct explanation of why he killed Schindler, 22, a gay man who was awaiting discharge from the Navy. Nor did he disclose any details of what led up to the killing except to say that he and two other sailors from the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood had purchased two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park.

Helvey said he had met Schindler before but did not explain how he knew his shipmate was a homosexual.

"Why can't he just tell me why? What terrible thing did my son do to him that led him to kill my son?" Hajdys said during a recess.

Helvey's courtroom apology was the first time since pretrial hearings began in February that Helvey had shown any emotion.

When Hajdys described her sorrow in testimony Tuesday, Helvey avoided looking at her by keeping his head facing down, seemingly writing notes.

Defense attorneys showed the jury nearly two hours of videotaped interviews from Helvey's neighbors and friends in Fredericktown, Mo., where he spent most of his youth. Many of them described Helvey, who was born in Eloise, Mich., as "closer than a brother." One old girlfriend said the family dog "never barked at Terry."

It was part of a defense attempt to portray Helvey as a youth who had overcome child abuse and a broken home to become a model citizen but who murdered Schindler under the influence of alcohol and steroids.

The prosecutor countered with a witness given immunity from prosecution who testified that he and Helvey had set Helvey's 1984 Chrysler afire just two months before the murder in a scheme to collect insurance money as Helvey was about to sail for Japan.