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Timothy Hennis appeals murder convictions; former Fort Bragg soldier argues Army lacked jurisdiction

A former Fort Bragg soldier convicted of a 1985 triple murder a quarter century after the crimes took place has again appealed his conviction to a military court.

Timothy B. Hennis, 55, was sentenced to death in 2010 for the killings of Kathryn Eastburn, a military spouse, and two of her children - daughters Kara, 5, and Erin, 3 - at their Fayetteville home.

Hennis, a former master sergeant, was brought out of retirement to face an Army court-martial nearly two decades after a 1986 conviction in state court was overthrown and he was found not guilty in 1989.

Lawyers for Hennis, who is being held at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., filed a petition for extraordinary relief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Jan. 27, according to the court's daily journal.

His lawyers argue that the military lacked the jurisdiction to court-martial Hennis because of an alleged break in his military service that occurred while he was awaiting an appeal in North Carolina courts, according to a copy of the petition.

Hennis repeatedly made the argument before, during and after his court-martial on Fort Bragg in 2010.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Hennis' arguments. Other civilian federal courts have ruled that it would be inappropriate to consider jurisdiction during Hennis' military appeals.

Hennis has maintained his innocence, but the latest petition only deals with the issue of jurisdiction.

The petition is the ninth time Hennis has made the argument that the military lacked jurisdiction. It asks that the military appeals court set aside the conviction and sentence and order Hennis' immediate release.

Eastburn and her children were found stabbed to death in their home in the Summerhill neighborhood in May 1985. A third child, 22-month-old Jana, was found alive in the home.

At the time of the killings, Gary Eastburn, Kathryn's husband and father to the three girls, was in the Air Force and training in Alabama.

Over the years, the case has repeatedly attracted national media attention, including several television specials and a book and television miniseries, both named "Innocent Victims" in the mid-1990s.

Part of the appeal is the unique nature of the case, which has been tried three times in three different courtrooms.

Hennis was originally convicted of the murders in Cumberland County Superior Court in 1986, but he was acquitted in Wilmington in 1989 after winning a new trial on appeal.

Hennis was then released and continued his military career. The Army brought him out of retirement and charged him in the killings after DNA from the crime scene was linked to him in 2006.

In addition to his death sentence, Hennis was demoted to E-1 and forced to forfeit all pay and allowances and receive a dishonorable discharge.

He is now one of several military prisoners on death row at Fort Leavenworth, and his appeals could take years.

Even following appeals, Hennis' sentence would not be carried out without presidential approval.

The United States has not executed a member of the military since 1961, and only one inmate at Fort Leavenworth's U.S. Disciplinary Barracks has been approved for execution.

That inmate, Ronald Gray, is another former Fort Bragg soldier who was convicted of numerous rapes and murders in the 1980s. His execution is on hold while on appeal in federal court.

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