The Double Jeopardy Case of Tim Hennis

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5th May 2019  •  5 min read

In May of 1985, Katie Eastburn and two of her young daughters were murdered in their Fayetteville, North Carolina, home. Despite the fact police had the killer, it took 25 years for justice to be served.


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It was a warm spring afternoon in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on the 7th of May, 1985, when 27-year-old Army sergeant, Tim Hennis, responded to an advert in the local newspaper, the Beeline Grab Bragg, which served the military community in the area surrounding Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg. The ad was placed by Katie Eastburn, who was trying to find a new home for the family dog, Dixie. Katie’s husband, Gary Eastburn, was a captain in the Air Force and had recently discovered he was required to relocate so the family were planning their big move to England. He was currently away on a training assignment in Alabama. The Eastburn family consisted of Katie, Gary, and their three daughters – 5-year-old Kara, 3-year-old Erin and 22-month old Janna.

Hennis arrived at the Eastburn home at 367 Summer Hill Road at approximately 9PM that night. He told Katie that he and his wife, Angela Hennis, loved dogs and thought that Dixie would be a perfect addition to their family which included a 10-week-old daughter named Kristina.  Hennis adopted the English setter and returned home to his family, new dog in tow. Two days later, however, Hennis made an unexpected visit to the Eastburn family. It isn’t known exactly how the following events unfolded, but the grim outcome would send shivers down the spine of the nation.

Four days later, a concerned neighbour who had not seen any movement from the Eastburn home and had noticed the newspapers piling up, contacted police to conduct a welfare check. When police arrived, they looked through the window and saw a crying toddler. Nevertheless, nobody answered the door. When they broke in, a putrid smell wafted up their noses and they were met by a scene that shocked even the most hardened officers: “Death has a smell, its own aroma. I’ll never forget the smell in there,” said Officer Robert Bittle, who was first on the scene. Kara was found curled up underneath a bloody Star Wars blanket. She had brutally stabbed ten times. Erin was found bludgeoned, stabbed and almost decapitated in her bed. Katie was found in her bed. Her bra was up around her neck and her underwear had been cut off. She had been raped and then stabbed 15 times. All of them had been slashed across the throat. Janna was found unharmed but distressed and hungry; she had been left in her crib for three days with no food or water.1 “For so long after that homicide, I could close my eyes and I could see the children,” said Officer Robert Bitte.2

Kara, Katie, Erin and Janna. Credit: The Eastburn Family.

The gruesome slayings stunned the safe, middle-class neighbourhood. The murders played to a common fear among military families that when the man of the house was away, the family would become prey. But the locals wouldn’t have long to wait until an arrest was made. Before her murder, Katie wrote a letter to her husband about the “nice man” who had come to the house on Tuesday night and adopted Dixie. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department announced that they wanted whoever had adopted Dixie to come forward for questioning. “We have no idea who it was. But anybody who went to the house, we’re going to talk to,” they announced. Hennis’ wife, Angela, saw the enquiry and the couple reported to the Sheriff’s Department right away.3 Investigators noticed how much Hennis resembled the composite sketch based on a description provided by Patrick Cone, a neighbour of the Eastburns who had seen somebody lurking in their driveway the night of the murders. When Hennis was interviewed, he couldn’t provide an alibi for the night of the murders; Angela was out of town all weekend.

While Hennis denied any involvement in the murders, his neighbour told investigators that he had seen Hennis burning something in a barrel in the backyard in the early morning hours after the murders. Hennis was apprehended on the 16th of May, 1985, after Cone picked him out of a police line-up and identified his car as similar to one he had seen parked nearby on the night of the murders. When Gary Eastburn rushed home, he identified several missing items from the family home, including his bank card. It was determined that the bank card had been used at an ATM nearby and an eye witness identified Hennis as the man she had seen using the ATM at around the same time the card was used.

After a lengthy and distressing trial, during which graphic crime scene photographs were shown, Hennis was found guilty of rape and three counts of murder. He was sentenced to death. However, Hennis appealed this conviction on the grounds that the crime scene photographs had inflamed the jury. In 1989, his retrial began and this time the defence mounted a better argument. The second witness to place Hennis at the ATM, now claimed that her memory could have been influenced by Hennis’ pictures in the newspapers. Additionally, it was uncovered that she initially claimed she did not see anybody at the ATM that night. Another witness was produced by the defence team – a tall blonde high school student who looked strikingly similar to Hennis. He told the court that he often walked through the neighbourhood at night and that Cone could have been mistaken when he saw him and thought it was Hennis.4 The defence also produced a newspaper carrier who claimed she saw a small, thin man leaving the Eastburn’s home on the night of the slayings.

In 1989, Tim Hennis was acquitted on all charges and then released. He returned to the Army and served in the first Gulf War and in Somalia, steadily earning promotions. He had a son and became a Boy Scout leader so that he could spend more time with his young son. He retired in Lakewood, Washington, in 2004, and lived a life of anonymity along a quiet, tree-lined street.

At the time of the murders and the subsequent trials, DNA testing was in its infancy. Investigators could do blood-type and hair analysis tests to determine whether a suspect was in the population that could have committed a crime but they couldn’t pinpoint a specific person based on that evidence. Then in 2006, when DNA testing was much more advanced, investigators decided to have the State Bureau of Investigations test the evidence once again. This time, analysis on the semen found at the crime scene matched a blood sample Hennis had voluntarily given the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department back in 1985. Since Hennis had already been tried and acquitted, double jeopardy prevented him from being tried in state court again. However, he could be tried in military court and in October of 2006, authorities successfully reenlisted Hennis back into the Army so that another trial could take place. The Army were able to try him twice for the same trial because of the dual sovereignty doctrine. They dropped the rape charge against Hennis due to the statute of limitations being expired.

Tim Hennis. Credit: Fayetteville Observer.

During the third trial, Hennis’ defence argued that the DNA did not indicate murder and instead, could have indicated that Hennis and Katie had sexual relations at some point before the murders. “Does the evidence take you beyond adultery to murder?” asked lawyer, Frank Spinner. “You should follow that evidence where ever it leads you, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you.”5 They argued that despite the DNA evidence, no other evidence such as hair or fingerprints were found at the crime scene. The prosecutor, Capt. Matthew Scott, argued that Hennis may have been able to clean up the crime scene but that DNA doesn’t lie. “The person that slaughtered her, raped her – the person that raped her left his sperm,” he said.

In 2010, after weeks of testimony and less than three hours deliberation, the jury found Tim Hennis guilty on three counts of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to death and currently remains on Death Row at the Army facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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Footnotes:

  1. The News & Observer, 17 May, 200 7 –“DNA Ties Sergeant to 3 Deaths”
  2. CNN Special Reports, 8 February, 2015 – “Timothy Hennis”
  3. The News & Observer, 21 January, 1996 – “Innocent Victims”
  4. The News & Observer, 12 May, 2007 – “Army Takes Up Triple Killing”
  5. Associated Press, 8 April, 2010 – “Jury Finds Soldier Guilty in 1985 Triple Slay Case”

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Luna
Luna
1 year ago

Thank goodness he was a military man! Had he not been there would have never been justice. It’s crazy to me that even after DNA proof the Double Jeopardy law still has power.

Lucy Bigley
Lucy Bigley
1 year ago

Double jeopardy is kind of fucked up… If this man wasn’t in the army then he would’ve got away with murder.

IzzySong
IzzySong
1 year ago
Reply to  Lucy Bigley

Double jeopardy is fucked up? Imagine living where the prosecutor can keep trying an innocent person until he/she gets the guilty verdict desired! In England, there is no such thing as jail. If you can’t bond out, you go to prison with convicted criminals to await your trial. I saw a 17 year old boy who stole a bicycle wait over 18 months in prison for his trial. Another 17 year old was sent to prison for 2 years for stealing a bike. After 12 years he is still there. That’s because prisons can keep someone as long as they… Read more »

Kate
Kate
1 year ago
Reply to  IzzySong

Join the discussion…”We have more rights in the USA than any other country.” Lol. What a bizarre and wildly inaccurate statement, IzzySong. There are liberal democracies in the West that at the very least match the U.S. in terms of civil liberties, and some actually exceed it, especially in relation to criminal justice. I do agree that double jeopardy is a fundamental aspect of our legal system and correctly guaranteed by our Constitution, though you might want to brush up on the procedural minutiae of the Oscar Pistorius case because you’ve completely misstated that situation. There is an argument to… Read more »

IzzySong
IzzySong
1 year ago
Reply to  Kate

Name those countries that match or exceed the rights we have in the U.S. And name the rights they have in those countries that we don’t enjoy.

Garnet
Garnet
1 year ago
Reply to  Kate

I hope to God none of you are ever similar to a murder suspect and don’t lose your freedom and life because the labs f**k up your DNA results

joANN
joANN
9 months ago
Reply to  Kate

I agree. If there are issues like DNA or any other progressive technique to qualify a better identification of a convicted person, the double jeopardy should be dismissed. The hand of GOD certainly ruled the hearts of all involved. Remember, whatever injustice occurs here will get true justice on the day of white throne judgment No attorney or witness necessary…

Teresa
Teresa
8 months ago
Reply to  IzzySong

Right on !👍

Izzysongisfuckedup
Izzysongisfuckedup
8 months ago
Reply to  IzzySong

Imagine living where a defense attorney can keep trying a guilty person until he/she gets the not guilty vertices desired? Yep, that’s where we live!

lucy
lucy
1 year ago
Reply to  Lucy Bigley

double jeopardy is a good thing. this case had to have very specific things go wrong to cause a problem (their original evidence wasn’t very strong and the techniques needed to analyze the hard evidence hadn’t been invented yet). you have to remember, most crimes aren’t grisly murders– without double jeopardy, we’d have prosecutors trying someone over and over for the same drug crime until they can’t afford to pay for a lawyer anymore. plus, double jeopardy ensures that prosecutors actually have to work hard to put forward their best case at the trial instead of relying on a do-over.

Samantha Sampson
Samantha Sampson
1 year ago

I am so happy he was finally caught but he was free much longer than he should’ve been. Double jeopardy is outdated.

IzzySong
IzzySong
1 year ago

Double jeopardy should never go away! Do you want to live in a country where they can try you as many times as they want until they get the verdict they want! Idgits!

Tina Hickman
Tina Hickman
1 year ago

It doesn’t make any sense that only his semen was found in this woman there’s no fingerprints there’s no hair there’s no other place where his DNA was found. And then they said because he had no blood on his jacket that somehow evidence of his guilt?? It proves he had sex with this woman it does not prove that he killed these people I just think that there should be more physical evidence being that all of the eyewitnesses were discredited at some point and eyewitness testimony has been well-documented to be often inaccurate and easily manipulated. It’s not… Read more »

Prissy
Prissy
1 year ago
Reply to  Tina Hickman

Hi there – I agree with your statement. The semen only proves he slept with her, but not that he killed her and her two daughters. There are many similar cases to the Eastburn murders, including one in particular that was never tied to this case. I wonder why the DNA under Mrs. Eastburn’s fingernails were never verified. Wasn’t Mr. Eastburn viewed as person of interest at one point?

Andrea Dee Fessel
Andrea Dee Fessel
1 year ago
Reply to  Tina Hickman

I agrer. The lab technician was also mixing evidence to help prosecute other cases. There were several fired during the time the evidence was obtained and stored. I am still not convinced he is guilty. I’m not even sure he had sex with the victim. All evidence should be tested.

Chad mcquarrie
Chad mcquarrie
1 year ago
Reply to  Tina Hickman

Thank you for bringing that up. I knew him growing up. I used to babysit his daughter and my mom worked with his wife at JCpennys. He was a very nice guy and I remember going to visit him during the first time in prison. Still have a my questions as even Bundy was a nice guy. There is so much more to this story that people dont even know. Like why did they bring it back, the husband made the da in the military do it. That parts left out and the da was really mad he couldn’t solve… Read more »

Angel M.
Angel M.
9 months ago
Reply to  Chad mcquarrie

I don’t know a lot about this case, just what’s here, so I can’t sit here and pick apart anything whatsoever, but I would say that he may have reenlisted to further lessen any suspicion. Who knows how Angela truly felt about the whole thing – if anyone knew whether he was capable of such horror, it would be her. I know when my own reenlistment came up, it became a huge deal in my relationship at home. “Well you just want to be around all those guys for four more years, blahblahblah…” (We aren’t together anymore!) My point being… Read more »

J. Walke
J. Walke
4 months ago
Reply to  Chad mcquarrie

Please tell me that you are joking. The husband made the military DA bring back this case 25 years after the murder, 20 years after Tim Hennis was freed from being on death row. Do you know Gary Eastburn or his daughter that spent 3 days in a crib while her family lay dead in the next room? Were you at the trial? Do you know the eye witness that seen Tim Hennis coming down the driveway of the victims house with a trash bag over his shoulder the night of the murder? Have you heard the testimony of the… Read more »

Romeo star
Romeo star
2 months ago
Reply to  Chad mcquarrie

Dude you don’t know squat! She did not have an affair with that animal she was violently raped then stabbed and her children were nearly decapitated. I suggest you maybe stfu about things you don’t know crap about . I know about this case intimately.

cactus girl
cactus girl
12 days ago
Reply to  Chad mcquarrie

Ted Bundy was apparently a very charming man. But he was also an evil serial killer monster. Looks are deceiving.

John Richardson Meadows
John Richardson Meadows
1 year ago

Seditious Capital Criminal Judges, Lawyers and other Officers, holding sworn government positions, seditiously conspired to expose someone to Double Jeopardy, and did so. Guilty or Innocent, the second trial is illegitimate, and seditiously criminal, undermining the legitimate government, from within. You can try him for lying, cheating, brutality, mutilation, and a few other things, but you cannot try him for murder. The “capital punishment”, for which those Judges, Lawyers and other Officers are liable, for their capital crime of Sedition, is Perpetual Bondage. The legitimate government honors the right to life of even such despicable persons, and this honor is… Read more »

William baillie
William baillie
1 year ago

Why did the army refuse to retest all evidence the cops and state messed this up 2 times and needed the army to get him and still they refuse to test everything , just maybe the dna tester mixed some up for them she did it before

barbara
barbara
1 year ago

my son has been convicted of a computer by the army and the fbi the army went into his room without a search warrant and took his computer and found nothing and then the fbi accused him to be a suspect of a death and took his computer which the second time they got a search warrant to go into his room cause the first time was an illegal search but he was not on a military base so he was convicted twice of the same thing now he is going to get cleared of a double jeopardy with time… Read more »

Angel M.
Angel M.
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara

The army lies to their soldiers and recruits about whatever they think will produce the result they want. Period. My recruiter lied to me repeatedly. Nothing too serious or anything that was life-altering, but still. It’s what they do.

Konrad de Venedictis
Konrad de Venedictis
1 month ago

Was für eine richtige Scheiße! Staatsanwaltschaft die Beweise verschwinden lassen und ein offensichtlich Schuldiger wäre fast seiner gerechten Strafe entgangen.

Es gibt keine irdische Gerechtigkeit von keiner Institutionen!

cactus girl
cactus girl
12 days ago

Evil takes many shapes and forms. What a monster of a man to do this to that poor innocent family. Often people refer to evil people as “animals”, a term I hate used this way. These horrible beings are MONSTERS, not animals!!

Pokie
Pokie
9 days ago

People say how can a man live a clean good life after committing such atrocities. Easy they just don’t do it again there have been many people who have committed crime and leave that kind of life behind. The Goldenstate Killer for one.

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