Local News

Author: Soldier Charged In 1985 Slayings Innocent

Posted November 10, 2006 4:45 a.m. EST

— The author of a book on a 1985 triple murder that has resulted in new charges against a soldier who has been tried twice for the crime said Friday that he still believes the man is innocent.

Military officials on Thursday charged Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis with murder and rape in connection with the May 12, 1985, slayings of Kathryn Eastburn and her daughters -- Kara, 5, and Erin, 3. All three were stabbed to death in their Summer Hill Road home near Fort Bragg, and Kathryn Eastburn was sexually assaulted before being killed, authorities said.

Hennis was convicted of the crimes in 1986 and was sentenced to die. But he won an appeal of the conviction and was acquitted in his 1989 retrial.

Cumberland County investigators said in September that DNA evidence unavailable for testing in 1989 connected Hennis to the murders.

Because double jeopardy prevents the state from retrying Hennis in the case after his acquittal, the Army recalled him to duty and ordered him back to Fort Bragg so a military court could examine the case.

Hennis retired from the Army two years ago and and had moved to Lakewood, Wash., with his wife and two children.

"I still feel like he's an innocent man," said Scott Whisnant, who wrote "Innocent Victims," a book about the case.

Whisnant said he believes the Eastburns weren't the only victims in the case. Hennis was a victim of an overzealous prosecution with flawed evidence, he said, noting he is keeping an open mind about the new DNA evidence.

"I would caution people against jumping to conclusions much like they did in 1985," he said. "There's varying degrees of quality of DNA evidence."

Whisnant wrote in his book about the sperm sample the state collected from the crime scene. DNA testing was in its infancy in the 1980s and was deemed unreliable, but for years after the acquittal, Hennis' attorneys pressed the state to test the semen in hopes of clearing his name.

"The state had written the case off. This is not a cold case they decided to revive. This is the action of one officer in the (Cumberland County) Sheriff's Department," he said.

Whisnant said he was a guest speaker at a May 2005 cold case seminar with the sheriff's depatrment and said a detective in that class had the sample tested.

"If Tim Hennis is guilty of these crimes, then the state should be appalled that they let this go for 17 years," Whisnant said. "If they have these tools available to bring him back in the Army ... and they have this federal military jurisdiction they can use, they should be appalled. This is not a cause for vindication for anybody."

The Cumberland County district attorney has declined to comment.