Hennis trial underway

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis leaves the Terry Sanford Federal Building and Courthouse after a federal hearing in Raleigh, N.C. on Friday, Feb. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

March 17, 2010 5:10:27 PM PDT
The third trial of a Fort Bragg soldier accused of killing a woman and her two daughters in Fayetteville more than 20 years ago is under way.

Opening statements came a day after a federal judge rejected a motion to stop the court-martial 51-year-old Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis.

He was recalled to active duty so he could face a military trial at Fort Bragg in the death of 31-year-old Air Force wife Kathryn Eastburn and two daughters.

Hennis had argued the Army didn't have jurisdiction to try him for the 1985 murders. But, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said in a ruling on Tuesday that it would be inappropriate to rule with a court martial in progress. Boyle dismissed the motion to allow it to continue through the military judicial system.

In court Wednesday, prosecutor Capt. Nate Huff reviewed the crimes in his opening and closed by saying new DNA evidence linked Hennis and Eastburn.

Hennis made notes during the prosecutor's statement, but didn't look up as Huff described the crime.

One of Hennis' attorneys, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, said the prosecution's case is missing pieces. He pointed out that Hennis worked with police in the investigation, not something he said a guilty man would do.

Hennis could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

Third time Hennis has faced trial

Hennis was convicted of killing Eastburn and daughters Erin, 3, and Kara Sue, 5, in state court in 1986. He got a new trial and was acquitted in 1989 after the NC Supreme Court ruled there were mistakes in the first trial.

Defense lawyers said the jury was swayed by graphic testimony and pictures of the violent way Eastburn and the girls died.

"I can still remember the pictures and holding the little girls dresses," juror Odell Autry told ABC11 shortly after Hennis was charged by the military in 2006.

Autry was one of the original jurors that convicted Hennis and sent him to death row. Since then, he and others have declined to comment.

"The pictures that were put up had a big part to it and then couple that with circumstances it just tipped the scales," Hennis' July 1986 defense lawyer Billy Richardson said.

And the evidence then was mostly circumstantial. Hennis adopted the Eastburn's dog days before the murder.

Neighbors testified they saw a man resembling Hennis walking near the Eastburn home the night of the killings. A witness said they saw someone that looked like Hennis using Kathryn Eastburn's ATM card.

Hennis spent two years on death row before he was given a new trial and acquitted.

In 2006, DNA analysis not available then linked Hennis to the triple murders. It was then that the Army recalled him to active duty and charged him with murder again.

Army prosecutors and Hennis' lawyers say this trial could last six to eight weeks or longer and up to 120 witnesses are expected to be called.

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