Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Timothy Hennis Case

It was not my plan to do this case next.  I ended up in a discussion with a friend over this case after the MacDonald case due to the many similarities in the case.  The friend, who thinks of herself as a true crime buff herself had not heard of this case so that is when I decided this should be the next one.  If you do not know this case, or even if you do, continue reading.  This case has many twists and turns but in essence is a landmark case.  Issues are in the courts now with no precedence go on, meaning there has been no case like it.  This is a case that challenges you to ask yourself what is morally right and what is legally right.

Undisputed Facts

1. On May 12, 1985 the bodies of Kathryn Eastburn and her daughters Erin (3) and Kara (5) were found in their home in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

2. Twenty-two month old Janna Eastburn was left alive in her crib inside the home.

3. Three days later Army Sargent, Timothy B. Hennis was arrested for the murders.


4. Tim had answered a newspaper ad the Eastburn's placed for a dog two days before the murders.


5. Tim was convicted for the murders in state court in 1986 and is sentenced to death.


6. Tim appeals and receives a new trial in 1989.  Tim is acquitted in his second trial and his discharge from the Army is listed as honorable.

7.  Upon his acquittal, Tim re-enlisted in the Army and subsequently retired in 2004.

8.  In 2006, the Army brought Tim out of retirement and back to North Carolina (he was now living in the Pacific Northwest of the country)  based on the fact they now say they have DNA evidence linking Tim to the Eastburn case.


9. After over four years of arguments and many delays Tim was brought to trial and in April 2010 was once again convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.


Disputed Facts:

1.  Just like the Jeffrey MacDonald case, and most murder cases, the biggest dispute is of the guilt and innocence of the accused.  

2. Tim stated in his first two trials that the only time he was in the home was when he visited concerning the dog. However, that story changed in the latest trial when it was presented that DNA of Tim's was found inside Kathryn Eastburn to say that Tim and Kathryn had been having an affair.


As with any case I could go on and on about the disputed facts.   I just do not feel the need to do that here because in my opinion it simply does not matter so I will move on to my opinion.

My Opinion:

The main issue of this case, in my opinion, is not about whether Timothy Hennis is guilty necessarily, but the issue of Double Jeopardy.

I could argue with you the issue of DNA in cases in which take so long to be tested and how those samples were preserved.  I could tell you that I could take issue with investigators, or police....etc who have stated in old cases how they had hoped something like DNA testing would be available in the future and hence preserved them.  To be honest, how does someone know what the future will bring and how to adequately preserve something?  However, if I were to dismiss DNA in old cases that convict people, to be fair I would have to dismiss DNA that have found people innocent and released from jail, and, well I am just not ready  to make that leap.  When it comes to things like this you cannot pick and choose what is good and what is bad, you have to take it all as a whole.  So, in this case, absent any indication of  DNA contamination, I simply have to accept the results that were given in his last and final trial.  Those results largely relied on the fact of a sexual assault and the finding of Tim's DNA inside Kathryn Eastburn. The other somewhat difference in this case is that DNA was coming to light in Tim's first two trials in 1986 and 1989 but was not yet accepted by the courts in North Carolina.  So, since the idea was out there, it is possible

That being said I have to say I think he is guilty.  What makes this case unique for me is that while I feel he is guilty, I do not believe he should be in jail.  In fact, I do not believe his last trial should have even happened through his court martial based on the double jeopardy rule.  Of course his lawyers were adamantly arguing this point, to which they still do.  The law against double jeopardy prevents someone from being charged for a crime after being acquittal through a court.  This means if in fact a guilty person is found not guilty through a court they can go out on the steps of the courthouse and state their guilt.  One could also argue the definition given in the movie Double Jeopardy in which a woman is convicted of the murder of her husband, who in fact is not dead and had faked his death.  In the movie a fellow inmates lets her know that after she has served her time she could murder the man in the middle of Times Square and she could not be charged... she had already served time for that charge.   My position is that, while of course, there are generally situations in which this law prevents the guilty from being caught, it prevents witch hunts in which prosecutors or detectives are convinced someone is guilty and continually charge them until they get the result they want. Reality of it is however, it is the law.  


Not only does my biggest issue on the fact that the military was allowed to charge him after and acquittal, I take issue with the fact that he was no longer technically a member of the military as he had retired two years prior to them bringing him in.  I have seen reports that the courts dismissed the double jeopardy issue based on all but stating the military is a separate entity.  When addressing the fact of his retirement, they have all but stated, not in so many words, once you are military, you are always military.  Granted, Tim was an official member of the military when the crime occurred.  However, the military did not charge him and conduct his first trial, the state of North Carolina did.


Do I condone murder and murderers? The absolute general answer would be no.  This is the only case that I can think of off the top of my head that I can say I do think the accused is likely guilty but should not be in jail.  I can think of another case (which I will blog about at a later time) in which I believe the accused is guilty, should have received jail time (in which she did), is not a case of self-defense but feel the victims asked for what they got.  But, just as this case, it is the only case in which I feel this way.  That is not to say that I have not disagreed in many cases on the amount of punishment given but as long as the law is followed, until laws are changed it "is what it is."  In the Hennis case it has been reported that there has never been another case such as this.  This means that no precedence has been set.  Guilty or not, if this last conviction stands it means that members of our military face different laws and rules than the general public.  We are telling  people if they put their lives on the line for their country we will try you until we get you and that puts the innocent at a disadvantage.  This case is not as much about Timothy Hennis as it is about future laws and rights of the people.

19 comments:

  1. Couple points that strike me (although I have a long way to go in research on this case)-

    *I have a MAJOR issue with the military charging him, after he was found not guilty by a civilian court. But, I can see how the military jurisdiction could be enforced, since he was an officer of the military at the time of the crime. But, if the court rules that another court cannot seek justice for a crime after one has failed to do so, then OJ could never have been tried in a civil court. The further I go, the more I think the courts have the right to act as they have. It is a monumental case.

    * Like JM, there is lot of witnesses changing their stories, and so it really comes down to the dna. I know you disagree, but the use of dna to implicate someone previously found not guilty could be the ultimate law this case sets. I absolutely believe that we can use old dna to set wrongly convicted free, without using it against those found not guilty previously.
    It is the prosecutors case, and they must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, in a timely matter, to a jury of peers of the accused. I firmly believe that to use any evidence on a freed suspect is unethical. There is no reason to test dna from a "solved" case. If the prosecutor thinks the jury got it wrong, he wont be the first in history to believe so. But the case is dead at that point. I really question who had and why was the old dna even tested against Hennis, a legally free man. I might argue his civil rights had been violated in doing so.
    Our Constitution provides that a man is innocent until proven guilty. If he is found guilty, he has the right to appeal at any time, should new evidence that prove their innocence become available. Groups like the Innocence Project have made great strides with applying old evidence (IF it was preserved) with new science. This, I believe, is great work, and protects our citizens. It also provides hope to past convictions, especially those comprised of circumstantial evidence.
    So, can you use evidence to free the wrongly convicted, without allowing it to capture the wrongly freed??? ABSOLUTELY! The wrongly freed have already been tried, and found not guilty; the authorities have already had their day in court against this defendant. To dredge up preserved evidence against not-guilty (different than innocent) is to impose a double-jeopardy. While, to use preserved evidence to free wrongly convicted is to preserve their right to re-establish their innocence through appeal, at a future point when "new" evidence (or new applications of evidence) become available.

    *So I have come the the crossroads, where my arguments collide-lol. Can a court with parallel jurisdiction try a freed suspect (I said, "yes") with dna examined fluids from old evidence(I said, "no"). Can my position still stand? I maintain it can, because a parallel-jurisdiction (in this case, military; in OJs case, civil) should NOT, I believe, be able to enter evidence not technologically available at the time of the crime. This, I think, creates a post-technology jury, which is NOT of the peers of the accused! If we allow prosecutors to sit on old evidence AFTER THEY LOSE THE CASE, and submit it to future technology advances, we have contradicted the protections of our Constitution, and removed the protection against Double Jeopardy. Once we have given the government their day in court, and found them lacking, they don't get another shot. It is not fair for a prosecutor to just wait on science, and hand the case off to a parallel court. Unlike WRONGFULLY convicted defendants, the prosecutors are not guaranteed an appeal; they don't have to wait on science breakthroughs from a prison cell. Furthermore, the State cant expect a defendant to defend himself against science that was non existent at the time of the crime; postdna juries on predna crimes are not a jury of the defendants peers.

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  2. You sort of have a point with OJ.. but you not really. Civil and Criminal courts are different and double jeopardy applies only to criminal. In the case of OJ he was CHARGED with murder, acquitted, and then was SUED for being "responsible for the death" (it's all in the wording :) ). In the latter it was not criminal in which he would be facing jail time.

    As far as the DNA I get what you are saying... but first remember this was not a "solved" case. Remembering off the top of my head, I believe while the prosecutors and investigators were convinced they had the right man, by law it was not solved. By the looks of it they never likely did investigate if further after his acquittal until such time they turned the samples in for testing. And while I agree that in this case the DNA probably got it right, I do agree that it should not have been used against someone who had been acquitted. Prosecutors have a DUTY to hold on to a case until they believe they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and if they lose... then that's their problem.

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  3. I DO have a point with OJ, that it was parallel jurisdictions, which is what the military is claiming.... OJ was responsible for his actions to the state (criminal) AND to the family (civil), simultaneously, with one act. Military is claiming this kind of simultaneous jurisdiction, in order to say his responsibility to the military is not fulfilled by a state criminal trial.

    Since I wrote all this out, it has occurred to me that both othe THs trial courts are holding him responsibility criminally. That is, both seek to punish him with prison time or death. For this reason, THs attorneys may be able to successfully argue that his criminal responsibility has been fulfilled by the state. I really hope TH is successful in this aspect of his appeal- whether or not he is guilty- because I think the military didn't act properly in bringing TH to Court Marshal. The way TH was forced back into active duty, in order to give the military power to indict him, really doesn't inspire service to Country.

    The case against TH was CLOSED when they found him not guilty. Legal statutes give time limitations to prosecutors, based on the crime. For a triple murder, there is no time limit. Whenever the prosecutor brings his case to court, that is his case.

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  4. By the LAW OJ was not responsible for his action in a criminal court.. yes in a civil court. Many (not sure I am one of them) argue that it's BS that someone can be found 'responsible' for a death after acquittal for murder because the civil courts are not "beyond a reasonable doubt" and a "preponderance of evidence." I disagree with what the military is saying because he was on active duty when the murders happened and they didn't take jurisdiction then. Hubby was telling me since he'd only been retired for two years the military had the right to get him... of course I explained that I didn't really care if they had the "right" as the issued lies with double jeopardy.

    Not only does it not inspire service to our country... what it DOES inspire is witch hunts! I have only heard of one (maybe two) other cases, non military, where someone was charged in state and then charged in federal court for murder... of course certain things had to apply to make it federal. I personally fear that if this case does not go in his favor the ramifications to others in the future.

    Yes, the case against TH was closed. But the case of the murder was not. I do however, believe he case was not investigated after he was acquittal because all the investigators and prosecutors believed despite the verdict he was guilty. I guarantee you that when the DNA testing became available the first and ONLY person tested was TH. But as you and I have argued privately, absent proof of contamination by the crime techs... the lab... anyone there's little that can be done in that aspect. It would not surprise me if they did find some proof but at this point it is all speculation and in case after case it has been claimed that it was not collected, preserved... etc properly. Claims aren't proof and the second the courts start throwing out DNA based solely on claims is the second that DNA becomes useless, and that will never happen.

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  5. By the law he was not GUILTY in a criminal court. But OJ was responsible to answer to a criminal court of the state. He was also responsible to answer to a civil court. This is a distinction of jurisdiction, not guilt.

    Our system allows for persons to be called to answer for their actions in parallel courts. By that I mean, one act can get you into hot water with different courts. If they have jurisdiction over your actions- by means of time, location, or actions- one absolutely can be brought before multiple courts.

    In this case, Tim Hennis, his appeals current are based on double jeopardy violation. I think it absolutely sucks that TH was tried again for this murder. I don't think it's fair. I don't think the military behaved honorably towards a soldier who served. I don't think is just that the military can bring someone out of retirement, just to Court Marshal them. I don't think it is fair that the military was able to force TH to reenlist, in order to reclaim their jurisdiction. But, I do NOT think his appeals on the double jeopardy grounds will be successful, and I will tell you why...

    *The US Supreme Court is not going to strip the military of its power to claim jurisdiction. All of the "loopholes" that led to TH being tried again, are legal, according to the laws governing military action. It sucks. It shouldn't be. But it was legal, and ultimately the military court did what it was within its right to do. And if the end goal is to trap a killer, the courts all believe they have succeeded.

    *These types of opportunities for applications of these laws, in this order, in this way.... doesn't happen very often. And, when it does, the US Supreme court still hold the ultimate power to review them on a case-by-case basis (just like they can here). For this reason, there is no cause for the US Supreme court to overturn the ruling of the military system. ESPECIALLY in this particular case, where the consensus is that this person is guilty. In order to be successful, TH would have to persuade the USS Court to 1:Take on the military, and 2:Release a man believed to be guilty! Not gonna happen.

    In either case, this case is on track to become the new case law; the way this case plays out can be used as example in future similar cases. It is an interesting case, but may not be as important as we think. I believe that, in the end, the US Supreme Court will drop this case like a hot potato.

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  6. Hold on to your shorts Kim... I totally agree. This case should have NEVER EVER made it to the third trial but it is highly unlikely, or improbable, that any appeals will work, based on what you said. I would be totally surprised if it is.

    I do stand by my belief that he is likely and probably guilty of this crime but for me in a way I am less concerned the outcome of all appeal for his sake than I am for other military people in the future. Well, not just military for that matter. What happens when this goes through and they find other loopholes in other ways to basically all but erase the whole point of double jeopardy. There are too many investigators and DA's out there who are so convinced in their cases that they will do whatever it takes until they get the answer they want. Then of course while I am typing this I am also thinking "I hope they can find that loophole and pull Casey Anthony back in" but in reality as much as I would love to see that happen I cannot condone it because just as we all "know" she was guilty, there are DA's convinced that others are that I would likely disagree.

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  7. Right-- this would be case law for any parallel courts... not just implication for the military. I think he has better appeal options at lower levels, with dna, jury, and chain of evidence issues. Right now they are banging the loudest drum, to raise support for someone who is probably guilty.....UHOH!! just returned to She-Who-Shant-Be-Named!!! lmao

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  8. This is what is wrong with our judicial system...

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  9. Just because he served his country does not make him any better than the next person. You have to earn that honor and Tim Hennis lost that honor the day he murdered those people. The military lost all respect for him once ,from his own addmission , disgraced the code of the military. Cheating on your wife, sleeping with another service member's wife (as by his own words they were having an affair which I am sure was a lie)commting murder, lying to the military for years. The loyalty of the military was to the Easteburn family. Th disgraced his country with his actions.

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  10. I totally agree with the writer of this article ( which is well written and covers almost all my many faceted concerns, individually i might add ) Yes, Tim Hennis is, and always was, in all probability one guilty SOB, but the law is the law for a reason! Double Jeopardy was designed to protect the innocent in the event the state or an errant DA's office has decided to file one murder charge after another (identical) murder charge, after another until their intended verdict is reached When an american citizen has been tried and acquitted, his rights whether guilty or innocent should be respected and upheld. Regardless of our own personal opinion's or bias this man was tried and acquitted and the criminal court system was used in the way it was designed. It is unfortunate that the highly respected and professional team of lawyers working for the prosecution has failed to provide "beyond a reasonable doubt" definitive proof that he was guilty..... and so he was acquitted.Under no circumstances should the state or the government be allowed to retry Mr. Hennis for the same crime. ever agian! regardless of wheter he was an active service member or not. He may have took lives but when he put his life on the line for his country, somehow his personal liberties got skewered along the way which is unnaceptable only because somebody in his position may be innocent in a future situation and be contiuously hunted down like an animal. Mr Hennis then went on with his life, careful i might add not to commit another serious crime and re-enlisted in the service. Tim Hennis, guilty as he likely is should be a free man so that our judicial system is not tainted and can be held to the high standard it should be. individual rights should not be thrown out the window because of military service or things of this nature but should remain in place during any and all witch hunts or good intentioned crucibles

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  11. Fantastic article and also fantastic debating between Author and Kimberly.
    First, I am confused about one aspect of this case. If he was a disgrace to the military and with him betraying all of the fundamental moral codes of the Army, how or why was he recalled to service? Why would they allow him, a man of no moral conduct, to be in charge, lead or even speak to other military personnel? I understand that they probably had meeting after meeting to find loop-holes that would put this man behind bars for life but to do so so brazenly and openly it makes me wonder.

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    1. The US Army has right to recall you at any point afar you retire if, during service, you did something illegal. I had a friend who was suspected of taking $2,000 gift during his retirement party. He was recalled 3 years later and investigated.

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  12. Upon retirement from the services, they still have the ability to recall you back to service for a certain amount of years; kind of like an inactive reservist type of thing. In case of a war, if they needed ou the COULD recall you but you'd be last on the list of potentials. But it still possible. I supose they could do it for crimes as well.

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  13. I was at the Fort Bragg trial. I sat with the Hennis family. I believe the neighbor killed them. And I am not the only one who believes that to be true.

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  14. Maybe this IS what one could call "justice".......

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  15. I believe an exception should be made when DNA evidence, or new methods that are shown to be incredibly reliable (who knows what the future holds), find the murderer like this case, to retry in murder cases. By your logic, where you're here saying laws are laws for a reason, then the innocent, when once convicted by a jury, even wrongly - yet which was done the legal way and you say laws are laws for a reason - then should evidence uncovered later that exonerates that person, who was convicted in the legal fashion, all lawfully, be set free? I mean if a jury was fooled, no fault of theirs, but did it all legally, and convicted an innocent person, should we throw THAT out later? I guess you would argue, we should not because as you say laws are laws are laws for a reason and there should be NO loopholes to let that innocent person out of jail because he was put their legally, albeit wrongly.

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  16. Hey Natalie Sorton, you said that you believe the neighbor did the killings, (not TH) and you are not the only one who believes that to be true....well let me go out on a limb and take a wild guess and say that the other people that agree with you are the TH family who you were sitting next to at the last trial.

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  17. Dear Susan;

    You state that the law "is what it is". Well, the law is that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not apply multi-jurisdictionally. Tim had been acquitted in a state court. Thus, if the federal government or other jurisdiction has a jurisdiction, they can prosecute a person and vice versa. See for instance US v. Devine, 934 F.2d 1325, 1343 (5th Cir. 1991); US v. Lanza, 260 US 377, 382 (1992); Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 US 121 (1959).

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  18. Dear Susan,

    I have to respectfully disagree with you on the issue of double jeopardy. In the constitution, there is a thing as the separate sovereigns clause meaning that federal and state governments are both sovereign entities. The supreme court has ruled several times that even if you are acquitted in one sovereign jurisdiction, you can be tried in a separate sovereign if that act violates its laws. One example is the Rodney king case were four officers were acquitted in a state court of assaulting King but two of them were convicted in a federal court for violating King's civil rights under color of law.

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