Jury deliberates fate of convicted soldier
Posted April 13, 2010 3:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2010 6:45 p.m. EDT
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A panel of 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel began deliberating Tuesday afternoon whether to sentence a former Fort Bragg soldier to death for killing a Fayetteville woman and two small children in 1985.
Last week, the panel found Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis guilty of three counts of premeditated murder for the May 9, 1985, stabbing deaths of Kathryn Eastburn and two of her daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin, in their Summerhill Road home.
During closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon, Army prosecutor Major Robert Robert Stelle described the case as "so vile, so repugnant, so purely evil" that it cried out for the death penalty.
Stelle stressed that the murders inflicted pain and suffering on the victims. “Each child stabbed 10 times – none of those wounds caused instant death. There was pain and there was suffering in each of those victims,” he said.
Stelle said evil men often disguise themselves.
"Sometimes they disguise themselves as a solder, but the deeds speak – their deeds speak the truth. Their vile, evil deeds speak to their true character," he said.
Stelle referenced the Eastburn family, saying their pain "is so raw because they never received justice."
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.
Defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe argued that Hennis "led an exemplary life" since his release from prison, and he has never posed a flight risk while awaiting trial at Fort Bragg.
"He was free to come and go, as any soldier, for the last three-and-a-half years. There's no hint that Timothy Hennis, the 52-year-old man in front of you, is a threat to anybody," he said.
Poppe discussed the bond Hennis has with his family and how his two children – 25-year-old Kristina Mowry and 18-year-old Andrew – look to him for guidance.
"The sentence – to spend the rest of his life in prison – it allows Kristina and Andrew the solace in knowing that the man that they love will be there to offer a kind word of encouragement," he said. "Execution would silence that voice."
Hennis's wife, Angela, sat behind him crying during the closing arguments.
“Death is never required,” Poppe said. “Death is often referred to as the penalty of last resort.”
Poppe noted that the death penalty is imposed when the defendant has no redeeming values, or is a threat to other inmates or society. “There is no hint or suggestion of that in this case," he said.
The jury will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
If they do not unanimously agree on the death penalty, Hennis will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If the jury decided in favor of the death penalty, it would be the first time in decades that the military would send someone to death row.