Ex-Lakewood resident gets death in 1985 slayings

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A military jury on Thursday sentenced a former Lakewood resident to die for the murders of a North Carolina mother and her two children in 1985.

Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis did not visibly react when the verdict was read. One of his lawyers, Lt. Col. Andrew Glass, put his hand on Hennis’ back.

Hennis’ wife, Angela, sitting behind the defense table, began crying and put a tissue to her eyes.

The sentence for the 52-year-old Hennis will be reviewed by a commanding officer and automatically appealed.

The 14-person military jury took less than three hours last week to convict Hennis of the premeditated murders of Kathryn Eastburn and her young daughters in their Fayetteville home.

The same jury deliberated for 13 hours over three days during the sentencing phase.

Hennis was first convicted in state court but appealed and was acquitted in a second trial. He couldn’t be tried in state court again, so prosecutors brought the case to the Army after testing linked Hennis’ DNA to the crimes.

Hennis had retired and was living in Lakewood when the Army recalled him to duty in 2006 to face the charges.

This is the second time a soldier has received a death sentence at Fort Bragg in the past five years. Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was sentenced to death in April 2005 for a grenade and rifle attack on his own comrades during the opening days of the Iraq invasion. His case is still in the appeals phase.

Soldiers sentenced to death are sent to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. If Hennis is executed, it would be by lethal injection. Under military law, the president must approve all death sentences. The last execution took place in 1961.

Hennis, who had adopted the Eastburns’ dog several days before the killings, was arrested four days after the bodies of Eastburn and her 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters were found. Eastburn’s husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was in Alabama at squadron officers training school at the time.

Then an Army sergeant, Hennis was convicted in 1986 of the killings in civilian court and sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court gave him a new trial, in part because the justices said the evidence was weak. Jurors acquitted Hennis in 1989, saying then that it was a quick decision for many because prosecutors couldn’t prove Hennis was inside the house at the time of the slayings.

During the three-week military trial, Jennifer Hopper, a former forensic analyst with the State Bureau of Investigation, testified sperm on a vaginal swab taken from Eastburn’s body matched Hennis’ DNA profile. Using a database that mirrors the population of North Carolina, she said the odds that the sperm came from another white man were 12.1 thousand trillion to one.

Prosecutor Capt. Matthew Scott said Hennis might have been able to clean up the crime scene back then, but he couldn’t clean up his DNA.

“The person that slaughtered her, raped her – the person that raped her left his sperm,” Scott said.

But Defense lawyer Frank Spinner stressed that no other physical evidence found in the home, including hair, fingerprints and a bloody towel, has been linked to Hennis. A defense expert testified during the trial that Hennis and the victim could have been intimate days before the killings.

“Their lives intersected with evil that night, but Sergeant Timothy Hennis was not the man that did these things,” Spinner said.