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Deliberations in 1985 triple murder continue

Posted April 14, 2010
Updated April 15, 2010

— Jury deliberations as to whether a former Fort Bragg soldier should be executed for killing a Fayetteville woman and two small children in 1985 resumed Wednesday afternoon after a question about parole prompted a brief delay.

Last week, a panel of 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel found Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis guilty of three counts of premeditated murder for the May 9, 1985, stabbing deaths of Kathryn Eastburn and two of her daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin, in their Summerhill Road home.

Col. Patrick Parrish, military judge in Timothy Hennis court-martial Military judge doesn't tell jurors about parole

The panel began deliberating Tuesday afternoon whether to sentence Hennis to life in prison or death, and one of the jurors raised a question about Hennis' parole eligibility.

Based on the premeditated murder convictions, the mandatory minimum sentence in Hennis' case is life with the possibility of parole. Should Hennis be sentenced to life, the Army Clemency and Parole Board would take up the issue of his parole eligibility after he had served 10 years of his sentence.

Col. Patrick Parrish, the military judge handling the case, intentionally didn't instruct the panel Tuesday on the possibility of parole because it's not in the panel's purview to anticipate whether Hennis would be paroled. Jurors are to simply consider a life sentence to be for life, Parrish said.

"I provided a legally incomplete answer," the judge said Wednesday in discussing the juror's question with attorneys.

Parrish said he would give the jury sentencing instructions that mention parole, prompting objections from Hennis' attorneys, who said the move would inject the parole issue into the deliberations.

"It will become foremost in the panel's mind when they consider life or death," Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said.

It's unlikely that Hennis would be considered for parole until he has served at least 25 to 26 years of confinement, attorneys said, citing research completed for another case.

Parrish angrily cut off the defense objections. "I take exception that you said I injected parole. I didn't inject it. The jury asked," he said.

Still, he later issued instructions to the jury that again skirted the parole issue.

"I told you that life means life. You should draw no other inference from that," the judge said, adding that the jury should issue a sentence "which you regard as fair and just at the time you make it."

Jurors left Wednesday evening without reaching a decision and were expected to continue deliberating Thursday morning.

All 14 jurors must agree on the death penalty for Hennis to receive that sentence. Otherwise, he will receive a life sentence.

Jurors asked a question late Wednesday afternoon about the effect of a vote that wasn't unanimous, and defense attorneys immediately responded that any such vote would automatically result in a life sentence.

If the jury decides in favor of the death penalty, Hennis would join five other men on the military's death row. They include Hasan Akbar, who was convicted at Fort Bragg in 2005 of killing two fellow soldiers in Iraq; former Fort Bragg soldier Ronald Gray, who killed two people and committed three rapes in December 1986 and January 1987; and Camp Lejeune Marine Kenneth Parker, who killed two fellow Marines with a shotgun in 1992.

The military trial is Hennis' third for the crimes. He was convicted in state court in 1986 but won an appeal and was acquitted in a second trial three years later. He finished out his service in the Army and retired to Washington state.

Years later, DNA tests not available in the 1980s linked Hennis to sperm found on Kathryn Eastburn. Because Hennis couldn't be tried in state court again, the case was turned over to the Army to pursue a court-martial.

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  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 14, 2010

    I really hope the national media gets hold of this when the guy is sentenced to death. And I'm REALLY hoping they make the comparison of a guy actually being executed from North Carolina, when the State of North Carolina doesn't have an Active Death Penalty. Because when this guy is sentenced to death, he WILL be put to death in a timely manner. Only wish we could transfer our entire Death Row to the military and let them carry out the executions. Our State Governemnt is too liberal, and lacking the cahunas, to get Death Row going again. But this man WILL be put to death regardless. Congrats to the military.

  • diana123 Apr 14, 2010

    what in the world was his motive to kill?

  • storm912 Apr 14, 2010

    Why A Defense Attorney would ask for life without Parole? Has nothing to do with Guilt or Innocents. I guess some don't understand the Appeals process in the Armed Forces. This entire case has been heard around the Globe Now. Only in America we put people on trial after your Acquitted.This trial may go to the Supreme Court.Several Reason's Double Jeopardy, Abstention Doctrine, Break In Service. Last but not least regardless if you draw A Military Retirement,the Military don't have Jurisdiction over you till you die. As of right now some will say yes they do.

    Unfortunately at the expense of an Innocent Man's Life all these laws will have to addressed once and for all.

    Not my ideal way of getting these laws changed, but they will address changes as result of this case.

    Serve your country 25 years and as a government we reserve the right to continue jurisdiction over you for life?

    Great recruiting tool for America’s Men and Women?

  • gandalla Apr 14, 2010

    I'm sure all the officers and enlisted men sitting on this jury will be promoted quickly for railroading this man

  • Tarheelfan13 Apr 14, 2010

    Double jeopardy is not applicable in this case. A person can be tried for the same crime at both the federal and state level even if acquitted at the other level. The argument the defense had as far as the military trial jurisdiction was a discharge question. Most state laws do not have corresponding federal laws but the military does have a law in the UCMJ against murder so this is a rare case where a person would face both state and federal charges for the same crime.

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Apr 14, 2010

    Not sure about military courts, but this would almost certainly create a mistrial in a civilian court. Someone who was intending to vote for a life sentence could very well change their mind to the death sentence if they thought he had any chance of parole. Bad bad move on the part of the judge here.

  • illegals--GO HOME Apr 14, 2010

    Give him what he gave his victims.....a complete death sentence!!

  • oleguy Apr 14, 2010

    In recent months DNA cleared a person in jail. Now the opposite DNA connected a criminal. Now here we are already setting up his parole. Give him the needle, anything less will insure him being released.

  • hpr641 Apr 14, 2010

    I fear this is simply a game to the lawyers in the case, and an attempt to force him to at least spend some time in prison. I say because I highly doubt the Army will prevail on the defendant's double jeopardy appeal ... the Army had full authority to assert original jurisdiction, but yeilded to NC, and never brought charges until after he was acquitted in state court and discharged from the Army.