State News

Military jury finds soldier guilty in 1985 triple murder

Posted April 8, 2010 11:16 a.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2010 4:11 p.m. EDT

— A military jury on Thursday convicted a former Fort Bragg soldier of murdering a Fayetteville woman and two of her children 25 years ago, and the jury will next decide whether he should be put to death for the crimes.

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis, 52, was found guilty of three counts of premeditated murder after less than three hours of deliberation. Because all 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel on the jury agreed on the verdict, prosecutors will be able to seek the death penalty against Hennis.

Testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Friday morning.

Hennis squeezed his wife's hand upon hearing the verdict but showed no other reaction. Relatives of Kathryn Eastburn and her daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin, hugged and cried.

Eastburn and the two girls were stabbed to death on May 9, 1985, in their Summerhill Road home in Fayetteville. A third daughter, who was 22 months old at the time, was found unharmed in her crib.

Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was training in Alabama at the time of the slayings.

Hennis 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.

A few years ago, a Cumberland County investigator, inspired by a class he took at Wake Technical Community College, conducted DNA tests on evidence in the case and determined sperm found on Kathryn Eastburn belonged to Hennis. DNA testing wasn't reliable in the 1980s and wasn't used in the initial investigation.

Because Hennis couldn't be tried in state court again, the case was turned over to the Army to pursue a court-martial.

The DNA was a key piece of evidence for prosecutors, but they also noted that witnesses saw Hennis and his car near the Eastburn home on the night of the slayings.

Defense attorneys tried to discredit the witness testimony, and they said the sperm pointed only to a possible extramarital affair between Hennis and Kathyrn Eastburn but didn't indicate that he killed her. Attorneys noted no other physical evidence linked him to the crime and that he had no motive for stabbing her or her daughters.

Hennis was placed in confinement on Fort Bragg after the verdict. He hadn't been confined since he returned to post in late 2006 to face charges.