State News

Military jury finds soldier guilty in 1985 triple murder

Posted April 8, 2010

— A military jury on Thursday convicted a former Fort Bragg soldier of murdering a Fayetteville woman and two of her children 25 years ago, and the jury will next decide whether he should be put to death for the crimes.

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis, 52, was found guilty of three counts of premeditated murder after less than three hours of deliberation. Because all 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel on the jury agreed on the verdict, prosecutors will be able to seek the death penalty against Hennis.

Testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Friday morning.

Hennis squeezed his wife's hand upon hearing the verdict but showed no other reaction. Relatives of Kathryn Eastburn and her daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin, hugged and cried.

Eastburn and the two girls were stabbed to death on May 9, 1985, in their Summerhill Road home in Fayetteville. A third daughter, who was 22 months old at the time, was found unharmed in her crib.

Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was training in Alabama at the time of the slayings.

Hennis 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.

A few years ago, a Cumberland County investigator, inspired by a class he took at Wake Technical Community College, conducted DNA tests on evidence in the case and determined sperm found on Kathryn Eastburn belonged to Hennis. DNA testing wasn't reliable in the 1980s and wasn't used in the initial investigation.

Because Hennis couldn't be tried in state court again, the case was turned over to the Army to pursue a court-martial.

The DNA was a key piece of evidence for prosecutors, but they also noted that witnesses saw Hennis and his car near the Eastburn home on the night of the slayings.

Defense attorneys tried to discredit the witness testimony, and they said the sperm pointed only to a possible extramarital affair between Hennis and Kathyrn Eastburn but didn't indicate that he killed her. Attorneys noted no other physical evidence linked him to the crime and that he had no motive for stabbing her or her daughters.

Hennis was placed in confinement on Fort Bragg after the verdict. He hadn't been confined since he returned to post in late 2006 to face charges.

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  • smalldogsrule Apr 9, 2010

    I hate to think that this man may have committed the murder, BUT, i have to go al;ong with those claiming double jeopardy. The US Army had to RELINQUISH jurisdiction in order for Hennis to be tried in civillian court. To me that means they gave up their right to try him period. I believe that DNA is NOT the be all end all. So he had sex with her. DOesn't prove rape or murder. How degraded was the evidence? I firmly believe that there is a civil rights case here. WHY was ALL the evidence not DESTROYED after the not guilty verdict? There should be a law requiring that.

  • computer trainer Apr 8, 2010

    According to what I just heard on TV, his DNA could have been in her from TWO days BEFORE the murders.

    ANd I do understand the difference in State and Military court, having come from a LONG LINE of military members. I still think that personally this is double jeopardy. He did not commit the murder against the military, if he in fact did kill them. As a matter of fact, the Army tells there members that if they had wanted them to have family, they would have been issued in Basic Training.

  • SaveEnergyMan Apr 8, 2010

    Don'tLike... I totally agree. This is what I learned the Constitution prohibited. What is to stop the county, the state, and the feds from enacting the same law and having three tries to get you?

    Did he do it? Probably. But we have a system of laws that cannot be countered, except in the exceptional process of creating a Constitutional Admendment. Sometimes you miss a guilty one, but the system is greater than this. It is foundation of our freedom and the lawyers are destroying it. What a sad day. We used to be better than this.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 8, 2010

    Military trials are questionable at best.

    They have a way of being expedient to give the military establishment the desired result.

    No officer who sits on the jury is going to vote against the wishes of the military establishment. If they do, their military career is over.

  • Suasponte Apr 8, 2010

    sg0544,
    1) Confession
    2) Credible witness
    3) Murder weapon with both suspect and witness DNA.
    4) Confirmed motive, not speculation.
    5) Ability. (goes back to the weapon thingy)
    6) Suspect's past criminal, psychological history.

    I could go on and on.

    The only thing shown in court was the opportunity to commit the crime. No one disputes that, though the "sudden" DNA breakthrough is 20 years, and 3 trials late and suspect due to improper storage and cross contamination. All mentioned in court.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 8, 2010

    This is double jeopardy.

    Since a civilian court ruled he was innocent, the military had no business retrying him.

    One more step toward Socialism and Marxism in this country by our Socialist and Marxist President Obama.

    Our rights are being slowly taken away from us, one right at a time.

  • jjb Apr 8, 2010

    Jeffery McDonald was the subject of an Article 32 Investigation (Grand Jury) and they found there was not enough evidence to bring him to trial. His wife's parents ask the US Attorney to bring him to trial and they did, and the rest is history. He was tried in a Federal Court. Maybe just maybe if the Military tried him and found him not guilty he would have walked.

  • beachluver Apr 8, 2010

    I am usually the first one to say someone is guilty of a crime, but I have never thought Timothy Hennis committed this crime and still do not believe it today! I know they say the sperm found matches his DNA; however, I just watched a case this week where blood found on another victim was matched to the DNA of someone who was 4 years old at the time of the murder and lived 80 miles away - how can this be? I believe DNA is accurate in most cases, but also believe that there are cases where the DNA is incorrectly matched. I think it is a shame that this man was found not guilty and the military was able to retry him. Regardless of what they call it, it is simply double jeporady. There seem to be 2 sets of rules and laws for military personnel and they tend to use whichever works in the best interest of the government.

  • Granpaa Apr 8, 2010

    How sad that another person is wrongly convicted of a crime and is totally opposed to the Constitution.

    Ft Bragg has a history of acting more like Communist than the ones in Russia. They take a Civil crime, remove it from Civil Authority, and try him in what amouts to a military tribunal. This is disgraceful. They found they could get by with it with Jeffrey MacDonald and have been trying people "by public relations" ever since. I'm not talking about our fine, honorable Soldiers. This is the Brass, the C.I.D. an others to keep Ft Bragg on the front page.

    It some cases through out, DNA evidence has been thrown out of court as inadmisable. Don't bet your life on this science.

    This can happen to any of us if trying a person over and over again is allowed to continue. These people have an agenda!

  • sg0544 Apr 8, 2010

    Suasponte,

    Just curious...what kind of evidence would you require to come to a guilty verdict if you were on the jury?

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