Deliberations in NC soldier's sentence to continue

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 13, 2010 8:58:30 PM PDT
A jury began deliberations Tuesday afternoon on whether a Fort Bragg soldier convicted in the slayings of a mother and two of her daughters should face the death penalty or spend life in prison.

The jury in the trial of Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis began its deliberations at 2:47 p.m. on Tuesday.

Hennis was convicted last week of premeditated murder in the 1985 slayings of 31-year-old Kathryn Eastburn and her two daughters.

The 14-member military panel determining a sentence adjourned without reaching a decision Tuesday evening. Court recessed at 5:40 p.m. after the jury deliberated for more than two hours and also waited for the answer to its question on whether 52-year-old Hennis would be eligible for parole with a life sentence.

Judge Col. Patrick Parrish told the jury that "life means life," and reminded jurors of his instructions to impose a sentence they view as fair.

Prosecutor Maj. Robert Stelle referred to Hennis' crime as heinous, repugnant and supremely evil, and that the only punishment is death.

Lt. Col. Kris Poppe told the jury that Hennis' family and friends still rely on him and that an execution would silence that voice in their lives. Poppe asked the panel to sentence Hennis to life.

In 2006, the Army forced Hennis, who was retired, back into active duty to face new charges in the triple slaying. During his trial, prosecutors said DNA found in sperm left in Eastburn's body matched Hennis.

This was Hennis's third trial for the killings. A civilian jury acquitted him in 1989 after the NC Supreme Court overturned his initial conviction in 1986. Hennis couldn't be tried again in civilian court, so he was charged by the military, which can pursue the case because its court system is a different jurisdiction.

Hennis, who had adopted the Eastburns' dog several days before the killings, was arrested four days after the bodies were found when a witness who saw him in the Eastburn's driveway picked him out of a photo lineup.

Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was in Alabama at squadron officer's training school at the time of the stabbings. The Eastburns' 22-month-old daughter, Jana, was at the home but was left unharmed in her crib.

The case spawned a 1993 book entitled "Innocent Victims," which was followed by a cable television miniseries.

Hennis retired from the military in 2004 and was living in Lakewood, Washington before his latest arrest.

Deliberations resume on Wednesday at 9 a.m.

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