Ex-Soldier Convicted Twice of Eastburn Triple Murder Appeals Again


Reopening the Eastburn Cold Case

In 2006, a cold case detective at the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office took interest in the case. He found a vaginal swab that had been taken from Kathryn Eastburn's body that contained semen from the man who'd raped her. The detective sent it to a crime lab for DNA testing -- a forensic technique that was not available at the time of the original Hennis trial.

The results showed, with 12,000 trillion to one certainty, that the semen from that swab belonged to Hennis.

"I just wanted to jump up and ... and scream, I was so happy," said Robert Bittle, one of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department homicide detectives who originally investigated the case. "It was vindication."

Gary Eastburn was shocked by the news.

"I started crying," he said. "Just hit with this wave of emotion. ... I get one more shot to see this man get justice."

The sheriff's office shared the DNA results with the military prosecutors. Hennis, who retired from his post-acquittal Army stint in 2004, was ordered out of retirement and back to active duty to allow for his court-martial for the murders.

In the defense's closing arguments, attorney Frank Spinner noted that there was no blood, fingerprint or fiber evidence that connected Hennis to the crime and that Hennis had been seen working on a dollhouse, presumably for his young daughter, at the time bank transaction records showed the stolen ATM card had been used.

Spinner even suggested that it was possible there was no rape, but rather that Eastburn and Hennis had had consensual sex a couple days before she and her children were murdered by some other unknown person or persons.

The military jury rejected the defense's arguments, and in April 2010, found Hennis guilty on three specifications of premeditated murder. A lawyer filed an appeal to Hennis' conviction with the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later that year. The Fort Bragg commanding general's review of the case, which is separate from the civilian court appeal, is typical of court-martials where the defendant is sentenced to death.

Watch the full story on "20/20" online here.

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