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20/20: The Hennis/Eastburn Case Profiled in "Witness"

Victims Katie, Kara and Erin Eastburn
Thank goodness for online television viewing because I missed this episode of 20/20 which aired a few weeks back, dealing with the seemingly improbable legal case of Tim Hennis. 

I have kept up with much of the Hennis case, involving the brutal 1985 murders of Katie Eastburn and two of her daughters, Kara and Erin.  I read the excellently written book Innocent Victims by Scott Whisnant.  I watched the well done television movie of the same name. 

I found the 20/20 segment to be very well done, presenting as much of the overwhelming amount of evidence as possible within the forty or so minutes allowed.  Particularly heartbreaking were the emotional interviews with the victims' husband and father, Gary Eastburn, and the surviving Eastburn child, Jana, who was less than two years old at the time of the murders. 

20/20 also interviewed author Scott Whisnant, who continues to hold firm to his belief that Tim Hennis is innocent and has been railroaded, as well as Hennis' former defense attorney, Billy Richardson, and the two original detectives on the scene, who revisited the crime scene on Summer Hill Drive for the first time since 1985. 

Did 20/20 change my opinion on the case?  No.  I still believe that Hennis and Hennis alone is responsible for the murders.  I do find it odd that he would voluntarily contact the police back in 1985 when they were looking for the man who adopted the Eastburns' dog two days prior to the crime but I think he believed he would answer a few questions and then be on his way, not realizing that witness Patrick Cone had provided a frighteningly accurate sketch of the man he saw leaving the Eastburn residence the night of the crime. 

I also found it disingenious on Hennis' part and his current attorney's part to claim that Hennis and Katie Eastburn had consensual sexual activity on the night of her death.  At no point prior to the military trial back in the spring did Hennis ever concede to a willing and voluntary extramarital relationship between the two.  Only when DNA results clearly stated that it was Hennis' sperm, and only Hennis' sperm, found inside Katie at the time of her autopsy did Hennis attempt to provide an explanation of sorts.  Why?  If true, surely Hennis would rather admit to his wife that he was an adulterer versus a child killer, don't you think?   And were there any witnesses that could corrobate that part of Katie Eastburn's character?  No. 

The part of the 20/20 program that really made me think was Billy Richardson's claim that double jeopardy came into play, that double jeopardy was not jurisdictional.  He may have a valid point.  If you recall, Hennis was tried in state court initially back in 1986, found guilty, and then granted a  new trial in 1989, at which point he was acquitted.  By all standards, that should have closed the legal books on Tim Hennis and the Eastburn murders.  However, the military courts had not tried Hennis, an Army sergeant, and being separate from state courts were considered a completely different animal altogether.  It was ruled that double jeopardy did not apply and the military court at Fort Bragg was allowed to charge, prosecute and convict Hennis of three counts of murder.

Convicted Killer Timothy Hennis
What do you think?  Was it justifiable charging Tim Hennis a third time in military court?  Is he guilty of murder or an innocent man being railroaded?


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