A soldier pleaded guilty to a reduced charge Saturday in the beating death of a barracks mate who had been rumored to be gay.
Army Spc. Justin R. Fisher, 26, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison.
Fisher admitted he lied to military investigators and obstructed the investigation when he wiped blood from a baseball bat that Pvt. Calvin Glover used to kill Pfc. Barry Winchell, who had been sleeping.
During sentencing, Fisher wept as he apologized to his family and to the relatives of the victim.
"Barry, I hope you can hear me," Fisher started. "I'm sorry for the part I played in this. I know you are now in a better place. I hope you know that if I could go back to the morning it happened, I would have changed it all."
Under a plea agreement, the Army dropped other charges, including participating as a principal to premeditated murder and acting as an accessory after the fact.
Fisher's court-martial trial had been scheduled to start Saturday.
Winchell, 21, was killed while he slept on his cot at Ft. Campbell. Rumors had circulated on the post that the soldier from Kansas City, Mo., was gay, and prosecutors said Glover was driven by hatred of homosexuals.
Glover, 19, of Sulphur, Okla., was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. He never addressed the allegation that he despised homosexuals. His attorneys argued that Fisher goaded Glover into the attack.
The mother and stepfather of the victim denounced Saturday's verdict.
Pat and Wally Kutteles said that they could not understand how the Army could at first charge Fisher to stand trial for goading Glover to murder their son, then drop the most serious charges.
"Suddenly, the Army let him plead to nothing related to the actual murder . . . justice was not served today," they said in a statement.
A group that represents gay and lesbian service members said the sentence is too lenient, considering that Fisher had admitted goading Glover into attacking Winchell.
The sentence is "a travesty," said C. Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, which is based in Washington, D.C. "We're left with huge questions about why Ft. Campbell cut this deal."
Fisher will be eligible for parole in about four years, Osburn noted.
The Winchell case has galvanized a national reappraisal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy six years after it was adopted amid a storm of controversy.