State News

Father, daughter tell of pain 1985 triple murder caused

Posted April 9, 2010 11:06 a.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2010 6:31 p.m. EDT

— The sole survivor of a brutal 1985 attack on a Fayetteville family told jurors Friday that she has no memory of her sisters or mother.

Jana Eastburn was 22 months old when her mother, Kathryn Eastburn, and siblings – 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin – were stabbed to death on May 9, 1985, in their Summerhill Road home.

Now 26, she told a military jury of her loss as the 14 Army officers and enlisted personnel consider whether Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis should die for the crimes or spend the rest of his life in prison.

The jury convicted Hennis, 52, a former Fort Bragg soldier, on Thursday of three counts of premeditated murder.

"I wish I had my sisters and my mom. I felt sad and alone. I didn't have anyone to look up to," Jana Eastburn said, crying throughout her testimony.

Police said Jana Eastburn had been left in her crib for up to three days before officers responding to concerns of neighbors entered the home on Mothers Day 1985 and found her unharmed amid the carnage.

"It makes me feel bad and guilty," she said, describing her visits to the family grave site in Kansas City. "I don't have that feeling for them."

Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, who was training in Alabama at the time of the slayings, testified that flying back to Fayetteville upon learning of the slayings of his wife and daughters was an "absolutely abysmal" experience.

"I can't describe the pain, the sense of loss," he said. "I was just a basket case, really."

Gary Eastburn said he is continually tormented by the fact that he wasn't home to defend his family.

"It was my failure as a father. Were they looking for dad? I feel bad. When they needed (me) most, I wasn't there," he said.

He reared Jana by himself but said he often wonders what Kara and Erin would be like had they lived.

"I've missed their lives. I'm really bitter about that. Nobody has a right," he said before trailing off and grabbing a tissue.

Jurors also heard from Kathryn Eastburn's mother, Jane Furnish. She recalled a young Jana asking her, "Grandma, I know you're not my mommy, but can I call you that?"

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 attorneys are scheduled to begin Monday presenting their case to persuade the jury to spare Hennis' life.