Hennis jury shown clothes of victims

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 18, 2010 5:03:18 PM PDT
Conrad Rensch knows the evidence in the Timothy Hennis case better than just about anyone. He collected most of it from the murder scene back in 1985.

Hennis, 51, is the Fort Bragg soldier on trial for the third time in the 1985 stabbing deaths of 31-year-old Air Force wife Kathryn Eastburn and two daughters: Erin, 3, and Kara Sue, 5.

Thursday, Rensch was on the witness stand identifying the evidence he collected. It includes a Star Wars blanket with blood stains taken from one of the murdered girl's bedrooms and the panties and bra allegedly cut from Eastburn's body.

But the objects that really caught the attention of the military panel hearing the case were the night gown and night shirt riddled with slits from a knife. Members of the panel leaned forward to get a good look as a prosecuting attorney slowly paraded the garments before them.

Rensch also identified the vaginal swab kit the Chapel Hill medical examiner used to collect what prosecutors say is a DNA sample that matches Hennis.

But during cross examination, defense attorneys challenged Rensch and Derwin Cannon - another Cumberland County evidence custodian - to produce chains-of-custodies for the evidence. They could not.

The defense says the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office did a poor job of maintaining the chain of custody of all of its evidence when it was moved to the sheriff's annex building on Highway 301 in 1992.

Cannon also confirmed that his predecessor was convicted of stealing hundreds of weapons from the evidence room between 1992 and 1993.

Before the testimony, prosecutors tried to bar any mention of the gun thefts saying they weren't related to the Eastburn case. But the judge sided with the defense.

Hennis was convicted of the Eastburn murders 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. Ordinarily, a person can't be tried for the same time after being acquitted. But after investigators said they used new DNA testing to link Hennis to the killings, the Army recalled him to active duty so he could face a military trial at Fort Bragg.

Other than the DNA evidence, the case against Hennis is mostly circumstantial. He adopted the Eastburn's dog days before the murder. At his first trial, 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.

Eastburn's husband Gary was at the trial Thursday. He said he plans to attend every day - even though he says it's hard to live through the nightmarish trial for a third time.

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

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