Local News

Soldier's family pleads for jury to spare his life

Posted April 12, 2010 12:39 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2010 7:11 p.m. EDT

— The family of a former Fort Bragg soldier convicted of killing a Fayetteville woman and two small children in 1985 on Monday begged a military jury not to sentence him to death for the crimes.

The panel of 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel last week found Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis guilty of three counts of premeditated murder and is considering his sentence.

Kathryn Eastburn and two of her daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin, were stabbed to death in their Summerhill Road home on May 9, 1985.

"I don't want to be left alone," a sobbing Beth Brumfield, Hennis' sister, told jurors.

When asked how she felt about Hennis after his conviction, Brumfield said, "I still love him. I believe in him" before putting her head into her hands and breaking down.

Brumfield, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., tearfully recalled the events of the past few years, when Hennis was recalled to active duty to be tried for the murders and both of their parents died.

"It's taken a toll on the family," she said.

Hennis' sister-in-law, Anita Pellot, of Carolina Beach, also sobbed through her testimony, calling Hennis "a father to me."

Pellot said Hennis' 18-year-old son, Andrew, collapsed last week when he heard his father had been convicted.

"He just crumbled in my arms. I just said, 'It'll be OK. He's still going to be available to you in other ways.' He was just devastated," Pellot said.

Kristina Mowry, Hennis' 25-year-old daughter, called him "my hero."

"I love spending time with my father," Mowry said, recalling how he read to her every night as a child.

Several military colleagues described Hennis as an excellent soldier and professional who was dedicated to his family.

"The Sgt. Hennis I know is a good person," said Col. Joseph Williams, of Portland, Ore., who said they became friends after working together at Fort Lewis, Wash. "He was a good (non-commissioned officer). He's been a good friend. He's been with me and my kids and my family.

"I respect the conclusion the (military jury) panel came to ... but I still hold Tim Hennis in high regard," Williams said under cross-examination by Army prosecutors.

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.

On Monday, defense attorneys read testimony that Hennis' father gave during the 1986 trial. Bob Hennis, who died in 2007, described his son as "very much a doting father."

The military jury is expected to hear closing arguments Tuesday afternoon from military prosecutors and defense attorneys before beginning their deliberations on Hennis' fate.