State News

Judge delays ruling on bid to halt court-martial

Posted February 26, 2010 4:07 p.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2010 6:45 p.m. EST

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis leaves the federal courthouse in Raleigh on Feb. 26, 2010, after a hearing in which he challenged the Army's right to try him for three 1985 slayings in Fayetteville.

— A federal judge declined to rule Friday on whether to halt the court-martial of a retired soldier forced back into the Army to face charges in a triple slaying that occurred in Fayetteville 25 years ago.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said that he would try to rule quickly. The court-martial of Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis is set to begin Tuesday.

Hennis declined to comment as he left the federal courthouse in Raleigh.

He was convicted in 1986 in the deaths of Kathryn Eastburn and two of her children. The state Supreme Court then threw out the conviction, ruling that prosecutors used graphic photos of the crime scene to inflame jurors, and he was acquitted in a 1989 retrial.

The Army forced Hennis back into uniform in 2006 to face a court-martial after civilian investigators reported that DNA testing linked him to the crime.

Attorneys for Hennis argued Friday that the military doesn't have the power to charge him because he was discharged from the Army in 1989. Courts have previously ruled that the military can't charge members of the armed services who have been discharged with crimes committed while they were still in service.

"He discharged June 12, (1989) and re-enlisted June 13," attorney Eric Allen said. "The Army loses jurisdiction. They can't try him for offenses that occurred at that first period of time when he was in the Army."

Attorneys for the government contend that Hennis was never officially discharged, saying that there was never a break in pay or benefits. They said the military has jurisdiction in the case.