At Arlington National Cemetery, a convicted killer rests among the heroes

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Each year before Memorial Day, a soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment places a small American flag near Navy Lt. Andrew J. Chabrol’s vault, an honor bestowed on every grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

This thought makes Judi Farmer sick.

Prior to the interment of Chabrol’s ashes in the nation’s holiest military cemetery, he was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia for the 1991 kidnapping, rape and murder of Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa Harrington, an enlisted sailor who had reported him for harassment and harassment. For those who remember Chabrol’s crimes, the knowledge of his dignified resting place is an open wound – an insult to his memory.

Farmer, herself a Navy veteran, is determined to see the remains removed from Arlington, an act she believes will close a dark and shameful chapter in military history. “In the early ’90s, there was virtually no justice” for victims of sexual assault, she said. “All the things that should have been done to do her justice when she was alive didn’t even happen.”

Although Arlington officials have said they don’t have the legal authority to remove Chabrol, Farmer and others aren’t happy with that response. She hopes that the army’s top leadership – or even the commander-in-chief – will be forced to intervene. And to support those efforts, Navy veterans who knew Harrington are sharing his story for the first time in more than 30 years.

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Harrington was 27 when her lifeless body was discovered wrapped in a rug inside Chabrol’s home in Virginia Beach. According to news reports at the time and later historical accounts, the 34-year-old resented Harrington for complaining to his superiors about his intimidating and unwelcome behavior.

Despite the accusation, naval leaders allowed Chabrol to leave military service without incurring serious professional consequences. He immediately set to work plotting what was described in diary entries as “Operation Nemesis”, according to trial testimony, and on July 9, 1991, he brought Harrington to his home and took him tied to a bed. She managed to free one of her hands and, in a last desperate attempt to survive, kicked Chabrol as hard as she could. He “went mad” and strangled her.

Farmer had advocated for victims of sexual assault in addition to his other military duties. She learned of Chabrol’s case in 2018, several years after he retired from the Navy, and while they didn’t know each other, she said the case was personal to her.

Farmer first started an online petition to have Chabrol’s remains exhumed. When it failed to gain ground, she wrote to Arlington National Cemetery. The military, which operates the facility, never responded.

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The The 2020 murder of Vanessa Guillén, 20, an army specialist, renewed Farmer’s resolve, she said. Guillén, who said she was sexually harassed before her disappearance from Fort Hood, Texas, has become a symbol of the military’s broader failures to support victims of sexual assault and ensure perpetrators are held accountable.

Earlier this year, in response to a new letter, Farmer was contacted by Renea C. Yates, director of the Office of Military Cemeteries at the Pentagon. Yates informed her that a law allowing the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs to reconsider burials only applied to those occurring after it was signed into law in 2013.

Farmer bristled at the explanation. “If the [defense secretary] is an advocate for the prevention of sexual assault, would he be able to find a solution to honor the hundreds of thousands of women who have served, who have been sexually assaulted, so that the abuser is not buried on our land? ” she said. “Because these are our land.”

While Arlington National Cemetery is space-constrained and burial eligibility is largely limited to military retirees, recipients of certain awards, and those killed in the line of duty, most veterans with at least one day of service and an honorable discharge may have their ashes cremated. at the cemetery.

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Historically, efforts to restrict eligibility for a burial in Arlington have been limited. A law prohibiting veterans who have committed federal capital crimes from being buried there was not passed until 1997, following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by the veteran of army Timothy McVeigh. The 2013 review law, known as the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, was passed with a specific provision allowing the exhumation of Michael L. Anderson, a veteran accused of killing Koehl in 2012 but not condemned before his burial. at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Michigan.

A spokesman for Arlington National Cemetery, John David Harlow, claimed the military had no authority to exhume the remains of those buried there before the law was passed, saying only those close relatives of the deceased could make such a request. It is not known, he added, if any of the other 250,000 people buried in Arlington before December 2013 also committed capital crimes.

Robert Taber, Chabrol’s brother-in-law and one of the last surviving members of his family, said in an interview that he had no intention of requesting the exhumation. “I like where he is, myself,” Taber said, “and I don’t want to change a thing. Because he earned it with his service in the military.

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Even without a clear path forward, more people who knew Harrington – she is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, near her home in Norfolk – now support a review of Chabrol’s case. Joe Harrington, Melissa’s widower and Navy veteran, did not know the circumstances of the killer’s burial until he was approached last year by the co-author of a forthcoming book on convicts to death.

In “Crossing the River Styx”, co-written by Todd C. Peppers, death row chaplain Russ Ford calls Chabrol “fundamentally evil and irredeemable”. He describes watching Chabrol’s beam with pride and satisfaction when he learned from the Navy, shortly before his execution in 1993, that he would be buried in Arlington.

“National honor exalted the demonic,” Ford wrote. “This monster would rest among the heroes.”

Jo Harrington said he was stunned to learn where Chabrol was buried. “A good friend of mine, who was also my division officer years ago, was in Vietnam and got shot,” said Harrington, now 63. “He was a hero. He was a warrior. And he’s in Arlington, and it just pisses me off that Chabrol could be there.

Navy veterans who knew Melissa Harrington stay haunted by his death. Nancy Walsh, who served with her aboard the submarine service ship LY Spear before Harrington moved to a Navy testing unit in Norfolk, described how they monitored each other in a place where sexual assaults were so widespread, she said, that women often walked around in pairs for safety. Walsh recalls the devastation she felt after learning of Harrington’s murder.

“God, she would give you the shirt off her back; she would do anything for you,” she said. “And I just, I couldn’t believe it.”

Walsh said he learned of the circumstances of Chabrol’s burial 10 or 15 years ago. “At first I thought he was buried in the same cemetery where she was buried – that really made me cry,” she said. “But then they told me it was Arlington and I was like, wait a minute, how can you deserve this?”

In another unit, Harrington served with Kevin Gouveia, an enlisted sailor to whom she confided her fears about Chabrol’s intentions. Gouveia helped her report Chabrol, he said, and was dismayed when the Navy did little to remedy the situation, calling the burial in Arlington a “slap in the face.”

“It took me a long time to try to move on, because Melissa’s death, I really took it very, very badly,” Gouveia said. “I was very upset at the time that I hadn’t done more to try to protect her.”

Farmer said she hopes publicizing Harrington’s story will inspire influential people to take an interest in her cause. “Maybe there’s a rule or something in our way,” she said. “Usually we try to find a solution: okay, how can we do the right thing?

“But there doesn’t seem to be an appetite here to do the right thing.”


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