State News

Judge refuses to delay court-martial in 1985 slayings

Posted March 2, 2010
Updated March 3, 2010

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis leaves the federal courthouse in Raleigh on Feb. 26, 2010, after a hearing in which he challenged the Army's right to try him for three 1985 slayings in Fayetteville.

— A military judge on Tuesday rejected a request to postpone a court-martial while a federal judge considers whether the Army can try a former Fort Bragg soldier accused of three slayings in 1985.

Col. Patrick Parrish said jury selection could continue in the court-martial of Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis because U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle didn't issue a stay while he considers Hennis' arguments.

Sketch of Timothy Hennis court-martial Jurors questioned as court-martial begins

Hennis has filed a federal lawsuit against the Army, maintaining that the military has no jurisdiction to try him for the slayings because he was discharged prior to re-enlistment in 1989. Boyle on Monday asked both sides to detail their arguments in the next two weeks so that he can rule in the case.

Hennis was convicted in state court in 1986 of killing Kathryn Eastburn and her two children in their Fayetteville home in May 1985. The state Supreme Court threw out the conviction, ruling that prosecutors used graphic photos of the crime scene to inflame jurors, and Hennis was acquitted in a 1989 retrial.

The Army forced Hennis back into uniform in 2006 to face a court-martial after civilian investigators reported that DNA testing linked him to the crime.

Defense attorney Frank Spinner said a delay would be appropriate for reasons aside from the pending federal lawsuit.

The state is reviewing old criminal cases after a recent state Innocence Inquiry Commission called into question the way the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab handled evidence, Spinner said, and Hennis' case could be among those examined. Also, Spinner said, a defense witness who will testify about footprint evidence might need more time to prepare.

Gary Eastburn, Kathryn Eastburn's husband and the father of the two slain children, was in the courtroom Tuesday as Maj. Robert Stelle, the prosecutor in the case, and defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe questioned the 19 Army officers and enlisted personnel in the jury pool.

Most said they had read newspaper articles and seen television reports about the case, but none had read a book about the Eastburn slayings or seen a 1996 TV miniseries based on the book.

The potential jurors also were asked whether they could be fair after seeing gruesome crime scene photos.

If convicted of murder, Hennis could face the death penalty, so the attorneys for both sides questioned panelists separately to probe their views on capital punishment.

One juror was disqualified after saying the only punishment for someone who killed a child was death, and Poppe sought to disqualify three others who were questioned Tuesday afternoon. Parrish didn't immediately rule on the request.

Jury selection is expected to take a week, and the court-martial could last up to two months.


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  • shortcake53 Mar 3, 2010

    AnObserver, you can twist things eight ways from Sunday, he is still guilty.

  • Myra Mar 2, 2010

    Fort Bragg has NEW DNA for a 25 year old murder and, reportedly, Bragg CID had OLD DNA for 1970's murder that would prove Jeffrey MacDonald's innocence. A Fort Bragg Court Martial found MacDonald innocent. Ft Bragg brought Hennis back in in, was it 2006? What's the hold up? Are they still paying him a salary; a first degree murder suspect? Waiting til they can perform a dog and pony show in the new expensive awesome court house? I don't believe they have NEW DNA. They've had Hennis back for almost 5 years and that implies they have problems -- OR -- they want it to be a National Media focus --- or BOTH !! Bragg Image Builder .. or .. inJustice? Something is just wrong .. DNA has been available for a long time -- what was the delay in keeping him employed on Bragg since 2006? In a budget crunch that seems extravagant. Lack of info doesn't help either.

  • daMoFo Mar 2, 2010

    It's not double jeopardy and he was not found innocent in the second trial. He was found not guilty..significant difference.

  • Tarheelfan13 Mar 2, 2010

    applesmith, the state (i.e. the Cumberland County DA office) is not prosecuting this crime. Local Civilian prosecuters(local DA)do not prosecute in military courts. The military JAG (Jusge Advocate General) are military members who are lawyers that prosecute for the federal government in court martial cases. Another thing is that the defendent was retired military so he was already drawing a military pension. Basically, this trial is only costing federal tax money and not state tax money.

  • Tarheelfan13 Mar 2, 2010

    SaveEnergyMan, do you know that the Bill of Rights were originally meant only for the Federal Government? Not until the 14th Amendment where the states mandated to follow the Bill of Rights and that was through a series of Supreme Court decisions throughout the years that incoporated various amendments of the Bill of Rights to the states. The 14th Amendment prohibits state courts from trying someone twice for the same state crime but so far the 14th has not been interpreted by the Supreme Court to prohibit both the federal and state government from trying the same criminal act.

  • Tarheelfan13 Mar 2, 2010

    landshark, again double jeopardy is not the case here. The state government and federal(more powerful sovereign) government are separate sovereigns and contrary to popular opinion one can be tried for the same act of crime under both sovereigns. Although this is a rare occurence since the federal government in most cases does not have specific general laws against eveyday crime that may range from murder to theft to assault. However, a military court is considered a federal court and the military has a specific law against murder which of course is found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
    Maybe the Supreme Court will one day address the issue of double jeopardy as relates to the separate sovereign issue.

  • AnObserver Mar 2, 2010

    "...I didnt need to be there to watch it happen, DNA doesnt lie.............. I dont need to watch it rain to know my deck is wet and my driveway has a big puddle. Its called common sense." - shortcake53

    Shortcake, Your example suggests that the only way your deck and driveway could be wet is if it rained. How about the kids playing with the hose or the sprinkler in the yard? Explanations are not always obvious. We cannot know if Hennis is guilty or not. We must let the courts decide his guilt.

    The DNA evidence was not reported until 2006, so it could not have been the basis of your "common sense" belief 25 years ago. A court will decide if the DNA evidence is relevant if the trial goes that far. Recent cases show that we cannot always trust investigators to tell the truth. Will you still believe he's guilty if the military court-martial acquits him?

  • SaveEnergyMan Mar 2, 2010

    landshark is right, the Constitution doesn't say you can be tried twice, if that court is different. It says "nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb". That seems pretty clear to me.

    Of course, the lawyers counter that the charges are different, because they are different laws, one state and the other federal (or military). That's not what the Constitution meant. Otherwise why not pass a duplicate set of laws so we can try people twice, if needed. Another reason I hate lawyers, they can make anything "legal" if you spin it enough.

  • opinion2010 Mar 2, 2010

    It's not double jeopardy since it is now federal. These are two seperate court systems. Had he not been in the Army during the murders then it would have stopped at the second trial. He's grasping at straws to avoid being tried again with the discharged and no jurisdiction by the Army. All soldiers are discharged to re-enlist, it doesn't necessaryily count as a break in your service. If he was truly "discharged" then he would've filed for benefits and left the army then instead of staying in until 2004. He's trying way too hard to avoid being tried again.. Hope justice is finally served.

  • OSX Mar 2, 2010

    This seems like double jeapordy. Proven innocent in the second trial. New evidence links him there but that shouldn't mean they can retry him. None the less I hope he gets what he deserves.