Fort Bragg, N.C. — Fort Bragg's commanding officer on Friday referred charges against a soldier charged in a 1985 triple murder to a general court-martial empowered to handle a capital sentence.
Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis is charged with three counts of premeditated murder in the May 9, 1985, stabbing deaths of Kathryn Eastburn, 32, and her daughters Erin, 3, and Kara Sue, 5, of Fayetteville.
Hennis was convicted in a civilian court and sentenced to death in 1986, but the North Carolina Supreme Court awarded him a new trial after finding his first trial was run unfairly and with weak evidence. A second jury acquitted Hennis in April 1989, and he retired from the Army in 2004.
Evidence connecting him to the crimes, however, prompted the military to recall Hennis to active duty last October so it could pursue charges in connection with the case.
In a May hearing, a State Bureau of Investigation agent testified that DNA tests from evidence collected 20 years earlier were degraded but provided clear matches for both Eastburn and Hennis.
Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, decided to dismiss a rape charge against Hennis, noting that the statute of limitations for the charge that was in effect in 1985 had run out.
In 1985, the Uniform Code of Military Justice set a three-year statute of limitations for rape. Although that statute of limitations was changed in 1986, the change was not retroactive, and the three-year limit applies to the rape charge against Hennis.
An arraignment hearing for Hennis hasn't been set.