Jury considers death for Hennis

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)

April 12, 2010 6:58:27 PM PDT
Relatives, friends and fellow soldiers testified Monday at the sentencing of a soldier convicted of murder in the slayings of a North Carolina mother and two of her daughters, describing him as a caring father and professional Army sergeant. "I still love him. I believe in him," a sobbing Beth Brumfield testified, crying as she described how she feels about her brother, Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis.

Hennis was found guilty at a military trial last week of three counts of premeditated murder in the slayings of 31-year-old Kathryn Eastburn and two of her three daughters in their Fayetteville home in 1985.

Brumfield cried as she recalled the events of the past few years, when Hennis was recalled to active duty to be tried again and both of their parents died. "It's taken a toll on the family," said Brumfield, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla.

Also testifying was Anita Pellot of Carolina Beach, N.C., the sister of Hennis' wife, Angela.

"He was like a father to me," Pellot said, sobbing through her testimony.

Hennis sat stoically throughout the testimony. He spoke only at the end of the hearing, when the judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, asked him if he understood his right to testify or make an unsworn statement. Hennis replied "yes, sir" five times to Parrish's questions.

His wife sat behind him, often crying and dabbing at her tears with tissues.

The Eastburn family, including the surviving daughter, Jana, and Kathryn Easburn's widower, Gary, sat behind prosecutors and occasionally reached for tissues themselves as Hennis family members testified.

Army colleagues also testified, including retired Col. Joseph Williams of Portland, Ore., who said he and Hennis worked together at Fort Lewis, Wash., and then became friends. His strongest testimony came under cross-examination by a prosecutor, who asked Williams what he thinks of Hennis now that he's been convicted of three murders.

"The Sgt. Hennis I know is a good person," Williams said. "He was a good NCO (noncommissioned officer). He's been a good friend. He's been with me and my kids and my family. ... I respect the conclusion the panel came to. ... But I still hold Tim Hennis in high regard."

Other military colleagues described Hennis as punctual, professional, and dedicated to his mission and fellow soldiers. The defense called 19 witnesses, including Kristina Mowry, 25, the oldest of Hennis' two children, and several cousins, all of whom described a tight-knit family with Hennis as leader and guardian of the younger children.

The only fireworks came when prosecutors tried to question a defense witness about whether he knew Hennis had been kicked out of warrant officer training school in 1984. The judge upheld the defense objection, and jurors heard no testimony about the incident.

The 14-member jury will hear from one more witness Tuesday afternoon, then hear closing arguments. It's not clear if the jury will begin deliberating Tuesday.

This is Hennis' third trial. Hennis was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court granted a new trial, at which he was acquitted. Hennis retired from the Army in 2004 and was living in Lakewood, Wash., when the military recalled him to active duty to be tried. A detective said he recovered DNA evidence that couldn't be tested at the time of the murders.

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