innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Army Reopens 1985 Murder Case

This article appeared on the ABC 11 TV News website on September 28, 2006:

Army Reopens 1985 Murder Case

(09/28/06 - FAYETTEVILLE) - A retired Army master sergeant who was convicted of a triple murder, then released from death row after being acquitted at a second trial, has been recalled to active duty because the military is investigating the case, a Fort Bragg spokesman said Thursday.

Retired Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis, who has been ordered to report to Fort Bragg no later than Oct. 30, is not charged with any crime, said post spokesman Col. Billy Buckner. He said Hennis, who retired in July 2004, is being recalled to active duty because of an Army investigation of new evidence in the May 1985 rape and killing of an Air Force captain's wife and the slaying of two of their children.

The recall notice was hand-delivered to Hennis on Tuesday at his home in Lakewood, Wash., Buckner said. Hennis was not arrested and is not considered a flight risk. Gerald Beaver, one of Hennis' lawyers during his first two trials, did not immediately return a message Thursday seeking comment.

"The decision about whether he will be court-martialed has not been made yet," Buckner said. "Right now it is inappropriate for me to speculate on what might happen to him."

Hennis was acquitted in 1989 in state court in the stabbing deaths of 32-year-old Kathryn Eastburn and two of her children, Kara Sue, 5, and Erin Nicole, 3. They were killed just days after Hennis, a sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, adopted the family's dog.

A third child, 22-month-old Jana Eastburn, was not harmed.

Hennis was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court granted him a new trial in 1988 after concluding his first trial was run unfairly and the evidence against him was weak. He was then acquitted in April 1989.

The state can't pursue any case against Hennis because of the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, but the military can, Buckner said.

The State Bureau of Investigation has tested DNA samples from the crime scene, and local prosecutors got the results in June, said District Attorney Ed Grannis. DNA testing was unavailable at the time of the Eastburn murders.

Grannis said the DNA evidence warrants the reopening of the case.

"We realize we have a double jeopardy issue which cannot be avoided. And so I contacted our friends at Fort Bragg and asked them if they would assign people to look into this matter, which they did," Grannis said.

Kathryn Eastburn's husband Gary was an Air Force captain in 1985, when Eastburn was chief of air traffic control operations at Pope Air Force Base, which adjoins Fort Bragg. Gary Eastburn was attending a military school in Alabama when his wife and children were killed.

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