'20/20' features Hennis murder case

September 17, 2010 9:30:44 PM PDT
ABC's "20/20" featured the Timothy Hennis murder case Friday night on ABC11.

The woman whose mother and sisters were murdered in Fayetteville 25 years ago spoke out about the impact the case has had on her and her family.

Jana Eastburn was 21-months-old when her family was killed. She was the sole survivor and for years, the prime suspect in the killings, 52-year-old Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis, roamed free until his conviction earlier this year.

As a toddler, she was questioned by a psychologist about that night.

In the "20/20" interview, Eastburn as a child, was shown kissing a picture of her mother. Her psychologist believed the toddler then recounted what she heard that night. The then-2-year-old said she was told to be quiet and to hide from the burglar. Eastburn was left unharmed in her crib.

She says Hennis has deprived her of the memory of her mother and two sisters and she says she feels guilty she doesn't remember more and can't really remember them.

Hennis' April conviction was the third time he had been on trial for the killings of Kathryn Eastburn and her daughters -- Kara and Erin.

Eastburn says it was hard to watch her father go through the murder trial, but it helped bring them closer.

"Just seeing him cry hard enough, then just had to hear all the stuff that has to say because it's all stuff that we really don't talk about. It was the first time I've really heard a lot of those things come out of his mouth," She said. "Just talking about my sisters and what things he loved about them and what made him smile and all these cute stories. It brought us a lot closer and it made me really glad that I could be there with him to help him through that.

Eastburn says she's glad the trial is behind her now.

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.

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.

It was the work of students at Wake Tech that lead to the discovery of new evidence that eventually led to Hennis' conviction.

The students were local law enforcement officers taking an advanced criminal intelligence class and the cold case caught the eye of a Wake Tech instructor.

"There was a suspect, there was evidence that was seized and therefore he decided it would be a good case to demonstrate if you take an analytical approach to evidence that was seized and what kind of patterns and trends are this crime scene," Wake Tech Director of Public Safety Training Dr. Thomas Edwards said.

Edwards wasn't the lead instructor of the class at the time. But he currently serves as the Director of Law Enforcement Training at the college and says the class is a prime example of a practical teaching philosophy.

And a few years ago, students at Wake Tech hoped to learn something by doing a thorough analysis of the Hennis case, leading to a breakthrough.

"They dissect that case and realized they had some evidence that had not been tested by DNA yet," Edwards said.

Edwards says the class uncovered critical evidence that pointed to Hennis as the killer, by using a tool that wasn't around back in 1985 when the murders happened.

"That's the reason why the trial was tried again in the military courts," Edwards said.

In April, a military jury sentenced Hennis to death for the crimes. He is appealing his death sentence for the murders.

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

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