Local News

Investigator: Soldier's DNA Matches Evidence From 1985 Rape Kit

Posted May 17, 2007

— Newly tested DNA evidence gathered after the 1985 rape and murder of an Air Force captain's wife matched a retired soldier who was acquitted of the charges nearly two decades ago, an investigator testified Thursday.

The Army recalled Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis to active duty last year to charge him in the rape and stabbing death of Kathryn Eastburn and the murders of two of her young daughters. Hennis was acquitted in a civilian court in 1989, but evidence connecting him to the crimes prompted the military to pursue charges.

Jennifer Leyn, a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, said she tested DNA evidence last year that was gathered 20 years ago in a rape kit. The sample was degraded but it provided clear matches for both Eastburn and Hennis, she said.

Under cross-examination, Leyn said there was no documentation on how the rape kit sample had been stored or whether the swab she tested had been sealed.

Leyn testified during the second day of an Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding, that will determine whether military prosecutors have enough evidence to try Hennis for the crimes. Closing arguments were expected Friday.

Hennis was arrested shortly after Eastburn, 31, and her daughters - Kara Sue, 5, and Erin Nicole, 3 - were found fatally stabbed in their home near Fort Bragg in May 1985. A third child, 22-month-old Jana Eastburn, was found unharmed in her crib.

Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was at squadron officers training school in Alabama at the time. Hennis had adopted the family's dog several days before the murders.

Civilian prosecutors charged Hennis in 1985, and he was convicted in a civilian court and sentenced to death in 1986. The state Supreme Court awarded him a new trial after finding his first trial was run unfairly and with weak evidence, and a second jury acquitted Hennis in April 1989.

Last year, investigators used technology that was unavailable at the time of the slayings to test DNA evidence collected from the crime scene. Local prosecutors said the results warranted reopening the case, but civilian authorities were unable to charge Hennis because of the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.

The military can pursue charges because its court system is a different jurisdiction.

On Thursday, defense attorneys questioned the military's ability to charge Hennis, who retired from the military in 2004. He was living in Lakewood, Wash., when he was recalled by the Army in September.

"I don't think they have jurisdiction," defense lawyer Frank Spinner said. "I don't think we should be here."

Defense attorneys pressured Cumberland County sheriff's detective Sgt. Larry Trotter for details about who handled DNA samples and if any evidence had gone missing in the last two decades.

"Is there any document today that would tell us ... who has had access to that evidence since 1989?" Spinner asked during cross-examination. Trotter testified he wasn't aware of any such document, and he later said no one from the sheriff's office had reviewed the case for possible missing evidence.

Trotter said he reopened the investigation after noticing the size of the case files. Trotter also said he remembered a previous military case, and knew the Army could still prosecute Hennis.

Under questioning from military prosecutors, Trotter said he gave several pieces of DNA evidence - including saliva and blood samples, and a vaginal swab - to the State Bureau of Investigation for review.

Trotter said one of the reasons he submitted the samples was to determine whether there was a match in law enforcement DNA databases.

"It could have well as exonerated him as much as implicated him," Trotter testified.

The defense called one witness, Durwood Canon, who was a crime scene technician in 1985 and helped collect evidence from the Eastburn home for Fayetteville and Cumberland County's combined crime scene unit.

Canon testified that a Cumberland County evidence custodian, Sydney High, was convicted in the mid 1990s for crimes connected to stealing guns from the county's evidence collection. Canon did not comment on evidence in the Eastburn case.


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  • ltbarkley May 18, 2007

    he will go scott free, guilty or not. there is simply too much question of the evidence.

  • Lightfoot May 18, 2007

    I don't know, the made for TV movie on this painted a convincing picture that he was innocent....if you can believe the movies.

    Sounds like this all is based on the DNA, and the defense is saying the evidence hasn't been secure (i.e. someone could have tampered with it).

  • FE May 17, 2007

    In spite of the apparent "guilt" of this guy, there is a valid reason for the concept of double jeopardy. There are ways around it, such as using the military system for this trial or bringing in the feds for "civil rights issues" when a state court does not originally reach the, ah, ...correct... verdict.

    As for the OJ case, that jury would not have convicted him if there were a videotape of the crime, narrated by OJ, introduced as evidence.

    Hennis was properly convicted and received a death sentence, but that conviction was later overturned and resulted in the second trial that ended (somehow) in an acquittal. (Blame the lawyers on that one.) The DNA evidence that is now available just affirms what was already known at the first trial.

    BTW: I gotta check out that billboard in Fayetteville!!

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy May 17, 2007

    I would RATHER see him tried (EVEN if it's Double Jeopardy) and convicted, if he commited this crime....we need to STOP letting people go on TECHNICALITIES!!!!

    And for you Military People on this forum....

    THANK YOU! I can't say that enough!

    MY FAVORITE billboard ever is the one that USED to be on I-95 Just before you got to Fayetteville....

    "Sleep well tonight, The 82nd Airborne has the point!"

    AMEN to that!

  • onpointe May 17, 2007

    If this man is guilty he does not deserve to live outside of prison-ever; no matter how many times he's been tried!

  • Smorgas_Of_Borg May 17, 2007

    One of the major flaws in the O.J. Simpson case was mishandling of evidence and failure to maintain records of chain of possession. I'd have to say as an armchair observer that his defense has a pretty good chance of clearing him - again - because the authorities failed to follow required procedures for handling evidence. Then again, this will be a military court, not a civilian one. I'm not sure just how much weight that aspect would play in the military system of justice.

  • Steve Crisp May 17, 2007

    It won't be too long when, if the county fails to convict, the state wil try. Then the feds. Then the military. Then some international court.

    No double jeopardy should mean no double jeopardy. If the primary jurisdictation can't get it right, then no one should have a second shot. Otherwise various levels of government could try you forever.

  • csi May 17, 2007

    Yes, the military can call you back to active duty,,,GOOD DEAL, just right for HOLDING purpose to ensure you DO NOT LEAVE COUNTRY !!!, Can hold you in ONE SPOT, until the civilian Court has time to get it together, Do an appeal and get it right this time. Ohh Yes, and we can go all the way to the US Supreme Court,,so,,,Chest move,,,YOUR TURN.....

  • sick of thugs 2 May 17, 2007

    Lock him up!

  • jhnewman May 17, 2007

    Firefox 384, all the respect in the world to you. Moody AFB 69-07, 1st SOS Kadena, Okinawa, Desert storm, got the coffee cup, T-shirt and would love to go do it all over again. Hats off to you and all who served. Have a great game of darts at the pub! If the Dems have their way, you and I might serve together in Atlanta or Dallas in the American Resistance Force in the not too distant future! Too bad we can't dig up Douglas and give him a heart transplant! Would enjoy meeting you and chugging a yard or two.