Local News

Army Recommends Dropping Rape Charge in 22-Year-Old Murder Case

Posted July 6, 2007 4:33 p.m. EDT
Updated July 6, 2007 9:47 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Army could drop a rape charge against a Fort Bragg soldier charged in connection with the 1985 slayings of an Air Force captain's wife and two daughters.

The Special Court Martial Convening Authority recommended dismissing the rape charge against Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis because the statute of limitations that was in effect in 1985 expired, the Army said.

The authority decided to move forward, however, with a general court martial against Hennis, who is still 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.

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, the Army said in a news release issued Friday.

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 in October 2006 so it could pursue charges in connection with the case.

In May, during an Article 32 hearing – similar to a probable cause hearing in civilian court – 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.

During that hearing, Hennis' attorneys also challenged the military's ability to try him for the homicides, but the Army found last month that Hennis should face a general court martial where the death sentence could be ordered.

A court martial date has not yet been set.