State News

Prosecutor focuses on DNA, defense on lack of motive as soldier's case goes to jury

Posted April 7, 2010 10:43 a.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2010 5:24 p.m. EDT

— Science finally caught up to a former solider accused of killing a woman and her two daughters 25 years ago in their Fayetteville home, a prosecutor said Wednesday during closing arguments of a murder trial.

Capt. Matthew Scott spent most of his argument emphasizing the DNA evidence that he said links 52-year-old Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis to the three killings in 1985.

Defense attorney Frank Spinner countered that plenty of evidence in the case points away from Hennis.

Hennis was first convicted in state court in 1986, but won an appeal and was acquitted in a second trial three years later. He couldn't be tried in state court again, so the case was turned over to the Army after more advanced scientific testing determined Hennis' DNA was inside 31-year-old Kathryn Eastburn.

Jurors began deliberating shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday. If convicted, Hennis could face the death penalty.

Hennis might have been able to clean up the crime scene in 1985, but he couldn't clean up his DNA, Scott told the jury of Army officers and enlisted personnel Wednesday morning.

"The person that slaughtered her, raped her – the person that raped her left his sperm," Scott said.

The prosecutor dismissed as fantasy efforts by Hennis' lawyer to argue the sperm could have been left days earlier or that the sample taken from Eastburn's body was contaminated.

Hennis was arrested four days after the bodies of Eastburn and her 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters were found. A 22-month-old daughter was found unharmed in her crib.

Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was in Alabama at squadron officers' training school at the time of the stabbings.

Spinner said the DNA points only to the possibility of an affair between Hennis and Kathryn Eastburn, not to murder.

Prosecutor Capt. Jody Young objected to the implication of an extramarital affair, saying no evidence of a relationship between Hennis and Kathryn Eastburn had been introduced during the trial.

"That is a vile, disgusting, offensive argument," Young said.

Hennis had no motive to kill her and her daughters, and he especially had no reason for the "overkill," Spinner said, noting the three were stabbed a total of 35 times and had pillows placed over their heads.

"Do not convict because of passion. Do not convict because of overkill," he told jurors.

During the trial, the defense also focused on challenging the credibility of eyewitnesses, including Patrick Cone, who testified he saw Hennis in the driveway of the Eastburn home at about 3:30 a.m. on the night of the murders. Defense witnesses testified that Cone expressed doubt over his identification of Hennis.

Other defense experts focused on the lack of physical evidence linking Hennis to the murders. An expert in forensic pathology said the killer would have been covered in blood. Investigators didn't find blood in Hennis' car or home.

A crime scene specialist testified that no physical evidence – fiber, hair or blood – was found at the scene or in Hennis' car or home that links him to the crime. His fingerprints were also not found at the crime scene.

Scott reminded jurors Wednesday that three people saw Hennis' Chevrolet Chevette parked in front of the Eastburn home the night of the killing and that a composite sketch police created based on Cone's description of the man he saw outside the house was strikingly similar to a photo of Hennis.

Also, Hennis was found burning items in a barrel in his backyard shortly after the slayings, Scott said, to ensure that they "no longer existed and could not be tied to the crime scene."