FORT BRAGG — An Army prosecutor methodically laid out the case Wednesday against a 51-year-old soldier recalled to active duty so he could be tried a third time in the death of a woman and her two daughters about 25 years ago.
Capt. Nate Huff, the prosecutor, waited until the close of his half-hour presentation before explaining to the military jury that new DNA evidence had been found that indicated Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis had sex with the woman, Katie Eastburn.
Eastburn, 31, and her 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters were killed at their Fayetteville home in 1985. Only Eastburn's 22-month-old daughter, Jana, was left unharmed in her crib. The bodies were discovered days later by neighbors.
Hennis' defense attorney said that prosecutors can't account for who had control of the DNA sample for more than a decade, and that genetic material from a different, unidentified man was found on a bloody towel at the scene and under the fingernails of the mother and one of her daughters.
"A DNA test itself does not say guilty," Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said.
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 reported seeing someone in the Eastburns' driveway late at night picked him out of a photo lineup.
The DNA evidence was collected from a rape kit. Hennis was also acquitted of rape, but doesn't face that charge because too much time has passed since that alleged crime occurred.
Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was in Alabama at squadron officers training school at the time of the killings. As the first prosecution witness, he broke down several times as he described the happy life he had with his family before they were killed.
Under questioning by the defense, Eastburn said he and his wife were frightened by a mysterious, threatening call she received a few weeks before she was killed.
In 1986, Hennis was convicted 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. He was acquitted in the second trial.
Hennis retired from the military in 2004 and was living in Lakewood, Wash., when a detective reviewing the case said he had uncovered DNA evidence that couldn't be tested in the mid-1980s.
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.
The new evidence was given to Army investigators, who recalled Hennis to active duty in 2006 and brought him back to Fort Bragg.
Hennis could face the death penalty if he is convicted.