Lackland Basic Military Training Instructor, SSgt Luis Walker, Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Rape & Sexual Assault, Commits Suicide at Leavenworth

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SSgt Luis Walker, US Air Force

SSgt Luis Walker was a basic training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After an investigation into allegations of improper relationships and abuse of power at the training facility in 2011, SSgt Walker was charged with sexual assault. One of his victims stated under sworn testimony that he had raped her. As a result of the courts martial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison as opposed to the original life sentence he was faced with. Shortly after the conviction, his wife spoke out publicly claiming that her husband was innocent and that he did not get a fair trial. SSgt Walker also echoed those sentiments when asked for a statement from the Air Force Times (see quote). A few months later, one of the victims in the trial went public with her story. Virginia Messick shared that she was raped by SSgt Walker and that it was a harrowing experience. She also later reported that she was facing battles trying to get disability benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Department of Veterans Affairs. SSgt Walker’s attempt to overturn the sexual assault conviction on appeal were eventually denied. It was only a few months later that he would be found dead in his cell at Fort Leavenworth from an apparent suicide.

“These setbacks have discouraged me and at times I have wanted to give up, but because of my family, I can not. I am a human being and an American, I deserve the right to a fair trial. There has been a lot of focus on the number of alleged victims in my case, instead of the charges against me, when in fact each charge should stand on its own.” -SSgt Luis Walker (Air Force Times, June 2014)

Lackland Air Force instructor faces sexual assault charges
Air Force sex scandal: Court-martial begins for Texas instructor
Woman says Lackland Air Force Base trainer attacked her
Drill sergeant texted explicit photos, U.S. Air Force trainee tells court
Four women testify in growing Air Force sex scandal
Sergeant charged in Air Force sex scandal a “predator”: Prosecutor
Air Force instructor convicted of rape in wide sexual misconduct investigation
Air Force Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty
Air Force instructor convicted of rape asks for leniency
Convicted Air Force Instructor Gets Twenty Years
Disgraced Air Force instructor sentenced to 20 years in sex scandal
SSgt Luis Walker, One Of The Lackland Air Force Rapists, Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison
Air Force instructor sentenced to 20 years in prison after raping female recruit and sexually assaulting several other women
Wife of Staff Sgt. Luis Walker: My husband is innocent
Release Of Former SSGT Luis Walker (Petition)
Lackland Rape Scandal Shines Spotlight On Military Failure
Lackland fallout: Rape victim turned whistleblower calls for congressional hearings
Attacked at 19 by an Air Force Trainer, and Speaking Out
Lackland Air Force Base Rape Victim Talks of Ordeal
A victim in the Air Force rape scandal breaks her silence
Survivor of sexual violence at Lackland Air Force Base speaks out
Lackland instructor’s victim speaks of trauma, fear
Lackland sex scandal prompts U.S. Air Force to discipline former commanders
Edward Rice, AF general who handled Lackland instructor scandals, retires
GI sex-assault victims face battle for disability benefits
United States vs SSgt Luis Walker, US Air Force (Court of Criminal Appeals)
Ex-Lackland instructor dead in apparent suicide
Ex-Air Force instructor in prison for sex assault dies
Convicted Rapist Found Dead in Cell at Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks
Results unclear for new sex assault safeguards at Air Force facilities
The Lackland Air Force Base Sex Scandal, Texas (2011)
A Complete List of the 35 Basic Military Training Instructors Court Martialed in the Lackland Air Force Base Sex Scandal

In 3rd Trial, Retired Army MSG Timothy Hennis Sentenced to Death by Military Court Martial for the Murders of Kathryn, Cara & Erin Eastburn in Fayetteville, NC (April 15, 2010)

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MSG Timothy Hennis, US Army Retired

In 1985, a young military officer’s wife and two of her three little girls were viciously murdered in their Fayetteville, North Carolina home. Kathryn Eastburn was also raped. The crime occurred six miles from the location of where Jeffrey MacDonald was accused of killing his wife and two children on the base at Fort Bragg. Army sergeant Timothy Hennis became a suspect from the beginning because a day or so earlier, he bought the Eastburn’s family dog. In a background check, they found that he had 3 convictions for writing bad checks and a witness identified him as the same person leaving the Eastburn home during the time in question. Eventually he was charged and found guilty of the murders of Kathryn, Cara, and Erin Eastburn; he was sentenced to death by the civilian authorities in North Carolina. But he appealed, was granted a new trial and at his second death penalty trial, he was found not guilty.

After his acquittal, he joined the Army again for two more tours, worked his way up to E-8, and retired as a MSG from Fort Lewis, Washington. Twenty years later, DNA evidence from a vaginal swab taken from Kathryn Eastburn linked Hennis to the crimes. Civilian prosecutors could not charge Hennis due to double jeopardy; but the US military did claiming they have federal jurisdiction because Hennis is a retiree. As a result, he was ordered back into service due to his retirement status. Hennis tried to claim consensual sex which contradicted original testimony. In 2010, a military jury found him guilty of three counts of murder and he was sentenced to death again. Hennis sits on death row at Fort Leavenworth with three other service members: Ronald Gray, Hasan Akbar, and Nidal Hasan.

Source: Death Row Stories ‘Timothy Hennis Double Jeopardy’

Video Links:


In 1985, a young military wife and two of her three little girls are viciously murdered in their home. In a twisted case filled with unusual suspects, the man who gets convicted goes free. But nothing is what it seems. -Discovery ID


3 People on Death Row Who May Be Innocent | Criminally Listed


A man tried three times for his life but is he a killer? Find out! Death Row Stories.


While on death row, Tim Hennis received an anonymous letter confessing to the murders. The note didn’t produce any leads. -Death Row Stories


The star witness in Tim Hennis’ trial had doubts about whether Hennis committed the murders. -Death Row Stories


Timothy Hennis Double Jeopardy | Death Row Stories | CNN

MJFA Links:
Air Force Spouse Kathryn Eastburn & Daughters Cara & Erin Found Murdered in Fayetteville, NC Home; Youngest Toddler Jana Discovered Unharmed (May 9, 1985)
A Military Jury Delivered a Guilty Verdict in a Death Penalty Trial to Retired Army MSG Timothy Hennis for the Triple Murders of Kathryn, Cara & Erin Eastburn (April 8, 2010)
In 3rd Trial, Retired Army MSG Timothy Hennis Sentenced to Death by Military Court Martial for the Murders of Kathryn, Cara & Erin Eastburn in Fayetteville, NC (April 15, 2010)
Four Service Members on Military Death Row at Fort Leavenworth, Army Private John Bennett was Last Military Execution by Hanging in 1961
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death and Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)

Related Links:

1986
Death sentence sought
Jury in Hennis trial visits area where murder victims lived
Hennis Receives Death Sentence

1988
STATE of North Carolina v. Timothy Baily HENNIS

1989
Triple murder retrial to start
Witness firm on identification of murder suspect
Witness shaky on identifying Hennis

1996
Reversal of ‘Victims’: Made-for-TV Justice
ABC explores ex-city man’s prison plight MUG: Hennis BOX: On TV “Innocent Victims” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday on ABC, Rochester cable channels 5 and 6

2007
GI cleared in 1989 faces murder court-martial
Accusations follow ex-soldier
Expert links soldier to 1985 killings
DNA hearing wraps up
Acquitted of murder, he now faces Army justice
Ex-soldier faces trial in decades-old deaths
Army to try soldier who was acquitted of 1985 slayings

2008
3 capital murder trials to put Army in spotlight

2009
Army holds hearing for soldier charged in 1985 murders

2010
Judge Delays Murder Trial For Recalled Soldier
Rochester native accused in N.C. triple murder
Why ‘exonerated’ needs to be used sparingly
Federal judge: Hennis court-martial can proceed
Soldier acquitted in 3 deaths faces military trial
Soldier acquitted in 3 deaths faces military trial
Hennis court-martial begins at Fort Bragg
Twenty-five years later, third trial begins in triple slaying
Hennis Trial Underway
Army presents its case in trial over 1985 killings
Hennis jury shown clothes of victims
Army expert: DNA from scene matches NC soldier
Friends, family testify for convicted NC soldier
Family testifies in Hennis sentencing
Military jury finds Hennis guilty of murder
Jury considers death for Hennis
Soldier Gets Death Sentence in Military Court after Civil Acquittal
Ex-Lakewood resident gets death in 1985 slayings
Soldier gets death sentence in 1985 Fayetteville triple slaying
Soldier sentenced to die for 1985 triple murder
For 2nd Time, Man Sentenced to Death for Murders
Prosecutor Emphasizes DNA in Hennis Closing
At 3rd Trial, Sergeant Guilty of 1985 Triple Murder
In 3rd Trial, Conviction in Murders From 1985
Military Jury Finds Hennis Guilty of Murder
Hennis found guilty of decades-old murders
Military Jury Convicts Soldier of Murder 20 Years After his Civilian Acquittal
Soldier’s family pleads for jury to spare his life
25 years later, widower recalls slain family
Father, daughter tell of pain 1985 triple murder caused
A murder conviction, but pain still felt
Tim Hennis case to be featured on 20/20

2011
NC soldier: SBI lab problems should mean new trial
Court-martial murder conviction appealed
Ex-Soldier Convicted Twice of Eastburn Triple Murder Appeals Again
Three Trials for Murder: In the name of justice, did the military sidestep double jeopardy?

2012
‘Unusual Suspects’: Military Man Convicted & Sentenced To Death Twice, Acquitted Once 
Court Rules Against Ex-Soldier in NC Triple Murder
Fort Bragg commander approves Timothy Hennis conviction, death sentence
An Execution Draws Closer
Timothy HENNIS, Petitioner–Appellant, v. Frank HEMLICK; Patrick Parrish, Colonel; Lloyd J. Austin, III, General; John McHugh, Honorable, Respondents–Appellees
Timothy Hennis v. Frank Hemlick et al. (US Court of Appeals)

2013
Nidal Hasan, and the 5 other men on the military’s death row

2014
Master sergeant on death row files new petition
Former Fort Bragg soldier again appeals conviction
Master sergeant on death row files new petition
What to Watch on Sunday: CNN’s ‘Death Row Stories’ looks at Hennis case in NC
Triple murder suspect goes from guilty to innocent and back to guilty
NC triple murder suspect goes from guilty to innocent and back to guilty

2015
10 Mysteries Resolved By Unbelievable Surprise Twists
CNN special with local attorney set for tonight
Timothy Hennis seeks relief in federal court; former Fort Bragg soldier questions Army’s jurisdiction in court-martial
Timothy Hennis case: Federal judge dismisses latest appeal
On military death row, execution is anything but guaranteed
Fair and Impartial? Military Jurisdiction and the Decision to Seek the Death Penalty
TIMOTHY B. HENNIS, Petitioner, v. ERICA NELSON, Commandant, USDB-Ft. Leavenworth, Respondent
Setting the Right Example: Removing the Military Death Penalty

2016
Eastburn Murders Expose a Loophole in the Law
Army court upholds death sentence of former Bragg soldier
Appeal by former Fort Bragg soldier who murdered mother and 2 daughters was rejected in military court
Timothy Hennis’ death sentence fits his gruesome crimes, court rules
Army CCA affirms death for Hennis
Army court upholds death sentence of former Bragg soldier
A look at the 6 inmates on US military death row

2017
Court-martialing retirees? ‘Fat Leonard’ cloud still looms for many current and former sailors
Hennis lawyers argue for more resources in murder appeal
Innocent Victims: The Horrific Eastburn Family Murders
The Eastburn Family Murders and The Three Trials of Staff Sergeant Tim Hennis
Army moves closer to first execution in 50 years; Ronald Gray on death row since 1988
Tim Hennis and the Eastburn Murders
Episode 3: The Case of Timothy Hennis | Death’s Door
The Many Trials of Tim Hennis
Episode 28: The Eastburn Family Murders | In Sight Pod
028 The Eastburn Family Murders | In Sight: A True Crime Podcast
United States v. Timothy Hennis | US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
US Appellee v. Timothy B. HENNIS, Master Sergeant, United States Army, Appellant | US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Death Penalty Information Center:
Description of Cases for those Sentenced to Death in U.S. Military
Former Death Row Inmate Acquitted in One Court, Now Convicted in Another

Video Links:
3 People on Death Row Who May Be Innocent Part 2
Unusual Suspects: Mother’s Day Murders (Investigation Discovery)
20/20 on ID: Witness | Investigation Discovery
Death Row Stories: Hennis Trailer | CNN
I did the crime…you’re doin’ the time | Death Row Stories | CNN
Death penalty case’s ‘Perry Mason moment’ | Death Row Stories | CNN
Timothy Hennis Double Jeopardy | Death Row Stories | CNN
Timothy Hennis | Death Row Stories | Netflix
Innocent Victims | ABC Television Movie

Book:
Innocent Victims: The True Story of the Eastburn Family Murders (Google)
Innocent Victims: The True Story of the Eastburn Family Murders (Amazon)

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Army Spouse Diane Pelkey Reported Missing; Fort Carson Soldier Michael Pelkey Convicted of Murder at Court Martial, Sentenced to Life in Prison (October 8, 1993)

When the severed head of a wife and mother is found, Lt. Joe Kenda uses forensics and interrogation to find both her body and her killer. Then… a young man’s murder looks like a robbery gone wrong until Kenda learns the odd reason he’s living there. -The Line Goes Dead, Homicide Hunter (S6,E13)

On October 16, 1993, a mother was home with her son cooking supper. She went outside to call her dog Shadow to return home. When the dog returned, he had something large in his mouth. Danielle and her son realized that the dog had a human skull in it’s mouth. Lt. Joe Kenda of the Colorado Spring Police Department was grocery shopping when he got the call. He left his grocery shopping cart as is and headed to the scene. When Kenda arrived on the scene, the medical examiner was observing the skull. The medical examiner observed another animal got to the skull before the dog did and the time of death was within the last couple of weeks. The skull appeared to be a female with no obvious signs of bullet wounds or trauma. But they didn’t have the rest of the body to determine the official cause of death. Lt. Joe Kenda decided to start with the missing persons reports first.

Kenda also wanted to find the rest of the remains. Unfortunately, it was dark outside so they decided to resume the search the next day in during the daylight hours. The police used cadaver dogs to find the rest of the body. Cadaver dogs are trained to notify their handler when they make a hit. Kenda knew this would be a daunting task because El Paso County is the size of Rhode Island. An hour into the search, the K9 officer got a hit. They found a few more human bones; some still had flesh attached and some had teeth marks on them. Kenda theorized maybe she was a hiker out for a walk one day and got attacked by a bear. Now Joe Kenda needed to identify the dead female. They used dental records to determine if the dead woman’s teeth matched any dental records on file. On the third missing woman’s dental records, they finally found a match. Diane Pelkey, 36, was reported missing one week prior by her husband Michael Pelkey.

Michael Pelkey paid for a full page ad in the newspaper looking for Diane Pelkey. Police learned Michael was a 16 year veteran in the US Army and lived off post in Colorado Springs with his wife. Kenda now had the unfortunate task of informing Michael Pelkey of his wife’s death. He told him positive identification was made through dental records. Michael Pelkey was overcome with grief. They had been together for over 15 years. They had a son and she was four months pregnant.  Michael claims the last time he saw Diane they were out at dinner and then got in an argument. He said she walked away from him and he had not seen her since. Kenda deduced she would have had to walk ten miles to get home. Kenda decided she was not killed by a bear, she was killed by a human. They didn’t know if maybe someone picked her up hitchhiking and killed her. Michael Pelkey claimed he didn’t look for his wife because he had to go home and take care of their five year old son.

As Kenda was reviewing the missing persons report for Diane Pelkey, he noticed one of the officers put JDLR (Just Doesn’t Look Right) on the bottom of the report. This is usually done when an officer feels something isn’t right or the person making the report was suspicious. Kenda spoke with the officer who took the report. They both decided the missing persons report was suspicious because Michael didn’t say anything about their child, Diane’s pregnancy, or that they got in an argument that same night. Kenda explained that usually if someone thinks something happen to a loved one, they won’t leave him alone. Kenda ran Michael Pelkey’s name through the data base and found there was a history of domestic violence, restraining orders in the past, and the couple had filed for a divorce. Kenda believed Michael Pelkey may have killed his wife but he wasn’t sure he had the authority to pursue the case.

Diane Pelkey’s remains were found in El Paso County, Colorado so the case may be out of Kenda’s jurisdiction. He pressed the sheriff’s office to put the squeeze on Michael Pelkey. They brought him into the sheriff’s department and started questioning him. They presented all the evidence they had to Pelkey and he became overwhelmed. Michael broke during the interrogation and admitted to killing his wife on October 8, 1993. He claimed they were in the car and he wanted to do some fishing. They started arguing; he accused her of being unfaithful, she accused him of being unfaithful. He said she wanted out of the vehicle to get some space from him and that didn’t sit well with him. Michael claims he snapped and started strangling Diane. Michael tried to claim that it was an accident. Kenda thought this was not an accident because it takes two to three minutes to strangle someone to death.

Michael Pelkey then told detectives he panicked after strangling Diane and decided to drive to a rural area in the Rocky Mountain foothills to dispose of her body. He put a seatbelt on her and drove as if she was simply a passenger in his car. He drove to a ravine near the highway and left her in an area where he didn’t think anyone would find her. Afterwards, he filed a missing persons report and took out an ad in the local paper to deflect suspicion from himself. Michael Pelkey probably thought he would get away with murdering her wife. But his plan unraveled and he was arrested for murder. The District Attorney allowed the Fort Carson Army leadership to court martial him despite the fact that the crime occurred in El Paso County. Michael Pelkey was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life. He is serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, a military penitentiary in Kansas.

You are held to a higher standard in the United States military. You will not behave in this way and if you do, you will be one sorry son of a bitch. Sgt. Pelkey found that out the hard way. -Lt. Joe Kenda

Source: The Line Goes Dead, Homicide Hunter, Investigation Discovery

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $3.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict. Download the ID Go app or purchase ID True Crime Files & binge away.

Related Links:
Obituary: Diane Lee Armendariz Pelkey
Military Convicts Do Time But Also Draw Paychecks
United States v. Michael Pelkey, US Army (1997)
The Line Goes Dead | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (S6,E13)
The Line Goes Dead | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (website)
The Line Goes Dead | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
The Line Goes Dead | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (Hulu)
Homicide Hunter Premiered ‘The Line Goes Dead’ on ID: Army Spouse Diane Pelkey Reported Missing in Colorado, Found Dead (November 30, 2016)
Violent Crime, Suicide & Non Combat Death at Fort Carson, Colorado (US Army)
What the DoD Doesn’t Want You to Know: 50 Shocking Military Homicides in the Last 30 Years (March 23, 2018)
30 Domestic Abuse Cases in the Military That Ended in the Murder of Female Partners

Fort Carson Soldier Christopher Walton Fatally Shot Outside Night Club; Leroy Davis Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison by Military Court (November 21, 1991)

All Hell Breaks Loose In Club Brawl Leaving A Young Solider Dead -Victim Zero, Homicide Hunter (Preview)

Lt. Joe Kenda of the Homicide Hunter series on Investigation Discovery discussed the murder of Fort Carson Army soldier Christopher Walton, 21, outside a night club in Colorado Springs, Colorado on November 21, 1991. What started out as a good night out on the town turned deadly after two rival units started a brawl at a local bar in Colorado Springs. The fight spilled outside of the bar and that’s when Christopher Walton was shot with a gun in the neck. Christopher Walton was getting ready to get out of the Army and move back to North Carolina. He was a described by his friends as a really good guy who took care of people.

As Kenda investigates the case, which is in his jurisdiction, he learns that a few months earlier a couple of soldiers got in a fight over a girl and that’s when everyone chose sides and the rival began. The rival was between the artillery unit and the maintenance unit at Fort Carson. An informant told Kenda that she thought Chris Smith may have committed the murder. Kenda pays Chris Smith a visit and in deed finds a gun similar to the gun they were looking for in his possession. It was later determined by ballistics that this gun matched the bullet recovered from Christopher Walton’s body.

Chris Smith was arrested for the murder of Christopher Walton. He never admitted to the murder and told Kenda that he had given the gun to someone else that night but would not give up the name. While Smith was in custody, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) called Lt Joe Kenda to tell them they had a witness to the event and they thought he might have the wrong guy. The witness, Eric Walker, identified Leroy Davis as the actual shooter. Leroy was a member of the artillery unit at Fort Carson which was the rival unit to Christopher Walton’s maintenance unit.

As it turns out, Chris Smith was telling the truth. He did give the gun to someone that night outside the bar after shooting it in the air because he didn’t want it on his person. Eric Walker told Kenda that Chris Smith gave the gun to Leroy Davis who eventually returned the gun back to Smith. Chris Smith refused to implicate his Army brother, even after he was arrested and jailed. According to Walker, Christopher Walton pushed one of the artillery unit members and Leroy Davis acted on emotional impulse, pulled the gun out of his jacket, and shot Walton in the neck causing his fatal injuries.

For some unknown reason, Leroy Davis faced a court martial as opposed to a being tried by the civilian courts in Colorado Springs. Lt Joe Kenda described military discipline as a whole different game, sharing that they are “draconian and ruthless.” The military has its own internal justice system and has been at the center of a controversial debate in Congress for the past few years over the way it handles violent crimes. In this case, Davis was sentenced to twenty years at Fort Leavenworth where he will be expected to do hard, physical labor the entire time. We learned from one of the soldiers present at the scene that fifteen military members from Fort Carson got discharged as a result of their involvement in this incident.

Investigation Discovery:

A massive brawl erupts at a local bar ends with the shooting death of a young army soldier. To unravel the murder, Lt. Joe Kenda must infiltrate a revered military institution, and expose a dangerous vendetta. -Victim Zero, Homicide Hunter (S5,E9)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $3.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict. Download the ID Go app or purchase ID True Crime Files & binge away.

Related Links:
Victim Zero | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (preview)
Victim Zero | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (S5,E9)
Victim Zero | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (website)
Victim Zero | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
Victim Zero | Homicide Hunter | Investigation Discovery (Hulu)
Lt Joe Kenda of Homicide Hunter Outlines Murder of Army Soldier Christopher Walton
Homicide Hunter Premiered ‘Victim Zero’ on ID: Fort Carson Soldier Christopher Walton Fatally Shot Outside Colorado Springs Night Club (October 20, 2015)
Violent Crime, Suicide & Non Combat Death at Fort Carson, Colorado (US Army)

Air Force Spouse Kathryn Eastburn & Daughters Cara & Erin Found Murdered in Fayetteville, NC Home; Youngest Toddler Jana Discovered Unharmed (May 9, 1985)

The murder of a military wife and two of her young daughters in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1985 was still making headlines twenty-five years later. The loss of his children and his wife Kathryn would forever haunt former Air Force Captain Gary Eastburn. Katie captivated him from the moment they met and the two got married shortly before Gary joined the United States Air Force. Eleven years later, Captain Eastburn was stationed at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina as an Air Traffic Control supervisor. By then, the couple had three daughters: five year old Cara, three year old Erin, and Jana who was just under the age of two. They lived on Summerhill Road near the Fort Bragg Army post.

In the spring of 1985, Gary Eastburn was nearing the end of a training program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Every Thursday night, Gary called Kathryn from the barrack’s payphone. One week, he couldn’t reached Kathryn and after frantically calling her for a couple days unable to reach her, Gary asked a neighbor to check in on his wife. The neighbors had grown concerned as well when they noticed that the newspaper had not been picked up for a couple days and they heard a child crying. They called the police who went into the Eastburn’s home and discovered Kathryn, Cara, and Erin had been murdered and the youngest toddler, Jana, was crying and severely dehydrated. They would learn that the baby was only hours from death.

The Fayetteville Police Department investigators discovered that Kathryn Eastburn had been raped and murdered. Her underwear had been cut off her, her blouse and bra were ripped opened, her throat was slit, and she had multiple stab wounds. Erin was found in her mother’s room stabbed to death and her throat slashed. And Cara was found in her own bed as if she was hiding underneath a blanket. She too had been stabbed multiple times and her throat was cut. Police believe the surviving toddler was in her crib for nearly three days before neighbors found her. Gary Eastburn received the dreadful call that there had been a death in the family while he was still at Maxwell. Investigators asked him to return home immediately because detectives wanted to give him the news in person.

Desperate police turned to the only living witness, Jana, to see if she remembered anything. The police took Jana to a child psychologist to determine what, if anything, she might know. The police deduced that the child heard the killer but could not identify him; she was just too young. An older Jana admits that she doesn’t remember anything now either. Police theorized that the baby was young and couldn’t identify the intruder which is probably why she was spared. In the meantime, a neighbor came forward claiming he saw a man leaving the Eastburn residence around 3 a.m. and was able to give a description of a suspect who drove a white Chevrolet Chevette. Kathryn also told Gary about a man who came and looked at the family dog they were trying to find a home for. His name was Timothy Hennis and the composite drawing inspired by the neighbor looked just like him.

Timothy Hennis was questioned and asked to give hair, blood, and fingerprint samples. When the detectives escorted Hennis back to his car, they discovered he drove a white Chevrolet Chevette. Later that night, Timothy Hennis was arrested. Hennis was an Army Sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg. Someone had used Kathryn’s stolen ATM card and a witness identified Hennis as the person who used the ATM right before she did at the time of the transaction. At every turn, the evidence overwhelmingly brought them back to Hennis. The prosecutors were puzzled why Hennis would commit such a heinous crime given he had no history of violence. They learned that he had approached a woman for sex that same night and theorized that when he was rejected, he decided to target Kathryn Eastburn.

A trial began roughly a year after the murders in 1986. Hennis’ attorney was quick to point out that the prosecution didn’t have any physical evidence linking Hennis to the murders to include fingerprints, hair, and foot prints. This was at a time before there was any routine DNA testing, therefore even semen found in Kathryn’s body led police nowhere. There was a significant amount of physical evidence showing that a male suspect was in the Summerhill Road house and it wasn’t Gary Eastburn or Timothy Hennis. Hennis’ attorney also pointed out that there was no possible way someone could leave that house without transferring evidence to their personal belongings. On July 4, 1986, the jury returned it’s verdict and Timothy Hennis was found guilty on all counts. Four days later, Hennis was sentenced to death.

While Timothy Hennis was sitting on death row, he received a letter from someone claiming to have committed the crimes. This person appeared to show remorse because Hennis was serving time for his crimes. In spite of the verdict, Hennis’ attorney and wife Angela continued to claim that Hennis was not the killer. As a result, Hennis’ attorney fought to have the murder conviction overturned and filed an appeal. The attorney felt he did not provide adequate representation in the first case and admitted that it was a heavy burden to carry. In a precedent setting decision, the Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict. It found the prosecutors used information to inflame the jury, a graphic parade of disturbing images taken at the crime scene. After two years on death row, Hennis was awarded a new trial.

The second trial began in 1989, four years after the murders. The prosecution’s case was still strong and the star witness was back to swear that he saw Hennis leaving the Eastburn home on the night in question. In this new trial, the defense delivered compelling theories of their own. They produced a witness who claimed to have seen another man (not matching the description of Timothy Hennis) near the Eastburn home. The defense also reminded the jury there was no physical evidence connecting Hennis to the murders. Additionally, they opined there were others who could have committed the crimes including the person who wrote to Hennis while he was in prison. And in this case, Hennis took the witness stand and denied having anything to do with the murders. On April 19, 1989, a jury found Timothy Hennis not guilty on the triple murder charges and set him free.

Gary Eastburn wasn’t convinced of Hennis’ innocence because he never once apologized to the family for their loss. The verdict just didn’t sit right with Gary and he strongly believed that Hennis was guilty despite the jury’s decision. Gary admits he was angry after the verdict but he knew he had to let it go for his health. A month after Hennis was released from prison, ‘A Current Affair’ paid Hennis and his wife to appear on the program. Hennis suggested the prosecution wanted to pin the murder on anyone so they could get it out of the news; he also denied committing the murders. Timothy Hennis was free and for over twenty years no new suspects emerged. Whoever committed the murders in Fayetteville had gotten away with murder until one day a cold case detective took another look at the case.

After the murders, Gary Eastburn was transferred to a military base north of London, England where he met an English nurse and married her in 1991. Jana was 8 years old and now had a step-mother. Timothy Hennis returned to his family and resumed a career in the Army which often took him away from home. He served in the first Desert Storm war, he served in the war in Somalia, he got promoted multiple times, and had nothing but good marks from military leadership. Journalist Scott Whisnant wrote a book called ‘Innocent Victims’ which was later featured as a television movie. The point of view of the book was that Timothy Hennis was not guilty of these crimes. Investigators never read the book or saw the show. They claimed they were not interested in fiction; instead they were annoyed and pissed.

Twenty years later, new detectives were working on cold cases and decided to take a second look at the Eastburn murders. A cold case investigator found the one clue that could lead them to the killer, a vaginal swab from Kathryn Eastburn. In the 1980s, DNA testing was not available but now it was and they sent it to the lab. The lab testing revealed that the vaginal swab from Kathryn was a match to Timothy Hennis’ DNA. Still, Hennis’ attorney wasn’t convinced because he didn’t understand how someone could commit such a heinous crime then go twenty five years without committing another one and also lead an exemplary life. Billy Richardson believed the sample may have been contaminated and he pointed out that the lab that conducted the testing had been called into question on numerous occasions.

Author Scott Whisnant also believed that something was wrong and Hennis couldn’t have committed these crimes. He asked: “How could he be guilty of this? How could he fool everyone all these years?” Meanwhile, investigators contacted Gary Eastburn to inform him they got a match to Timothy Hennis. Eastburn admitted he had given up hope and the new information was overwhelming. But one thing stood in the way of justice: the Constitution. Hennis had been found not guilty by the State of North Carolina and they were prohibited from trying him a second time because of the double jeopardy clause. But the State found a loophole and because Timothy Hennis was a retired Army soldier, the Army could try him. They ordered Hennis out of retirement and back into uniform to stand trial in the military justice system.

Hennis retired in Washington state in a community near Seattle which was a shock to Gary Eastburn because that’s where he and his wife had settled and Jana and her boyfriend had settled. They learned that Hennis lived 30 minutes away from them. Jana was shocked he lived so closely to them because he was walking free in a community near her. But the Army would soon move Hennis; he was ordered back to Fort Bragg to face triple murder charges. After two decades of freedom, Hennis was being tried for the murders of Kathryn, Cara and Erin Eastburn, a third time for the same crime, except this time in a military court martial. If convicted, Hennis could again face the death penalty again. Hennis’ attorney was stunned that in America, Hennis could be charged for a third time for the same crime.

Billy Richardson referred to the double jeopardy clause in the US Constitution and reminded the public it doesn’t say anything about jurisdiction. He tried to get a federal court to intervene on the issue but failed. And in this third Hennis trial, there would be a new witness, Jana, the only survivor that night. She wanted the jury to know how this crime impacted her life. The trial began in the spring of 2010 and Timothy Hennis’ wife and grown daughter continued to stand by his side. They believed he was innocent. Hennis’ new attorney, Frank Spinner, argued at trial that the facts of Hennis’ life do not paint the portrait of a man who could commit such a heinous crime. He questioned how a man who led such an exemplary life could be the same person who would commit three murders in one night.

Timothy Hennis served his country with distinction, raised his family, and never committed another crime in the twenty five years after the Eastburn murders. And yet on one single night, Hennis slaughtered a family? The prosecutors said the motive didn’t matter because there was DNA linking Hennis to the murders. Spinner reminded jurors that DNA does not mean a case is open and shut. He argued that the DNA does not mean Hennis raped and murdered Kathryn Eastburn because Hennis admitted to consensual sex with her. Hennis suggested Kathryn was lonely while her husband was away at training. Gary Eastburn was angry the defense would have the audacity to suggest that Kathryn was a ‘whore’. Hennis’ old attorney Billy Richardson shared that Hennis denied having sex with Kathryn twenty years ago.

IMG_5116

Kathryn and Gary Eastburn

The military panel didn’t believe Timothy Hennis and they found him guilty of the murders of Kathryn, Cara and Erin Eastburn. Hennis was lead away in handcuffs and for the second time in his life, he was sentenced to death. Timothy Hennis maintains his innocence, filed an appeal, and is fighting for a reversal of his conviction. Gary and his daughter Jana spoke to the press minutes after the verdict and expressed empathy for Timothy’s family despite their belief that justice was finally served. Jana Eastburn admitted she feels more at peace knowing that Hennis is behind bars. As of 2011, Timothy Hennis appealed his conviction and challenged the federal ruling regarding the double jeopardy clause. Timothy Hennis remains on military death row at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Source: 20/20 on ID ‘Witness’

In 1985, a young military wife and two of her three little girls are viciously murdered in their home. In a twisted case filled with unusual suspects, the man who gets convicted goes free. But nothing is what it seems. -20/20 on ID

MJFA Links:
Air Force Spouse Kathryn Eastburn & Daughters Cara & Erin Found Murdered in Fayetteville, NC Home; Youngest Toddler Jana Discovered Unharmed (May 9, 1985)
A Military Jury Delivered a Guilty Verdict in a Death Penalty Trial to Retired Army MSG Timothy Hennis for the Triple Murders of Kathryn, Cara & Erin Eastburn (April 8, 2010)
In 3rd Trial, Retired Army MSG Timothy Hennis Sentenced to Death by Military Court Martial for the Murders of Kathryn, Cara & Erin Eastburn in Fayetteville, NC (April 15, 2010)
Four Service Members on Military Death Row at Fort Leavenworth, Army Private John Bennett was Last Military Execution by Hanging in 1961
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death and Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)

Related Links:

1986
Death sentence sought
Jury in Hennis trial visits area where murder victims lived
Hennis Receives Death Sentence

1988
STATE of North Carolina v. Timothy Baily HENNIS

1989
Triple murder retrial to start
Witness firm on identification of murder suspect
Witness shaky on identifying Hennis

1996
Reversal of ‘Victims’: Made-for-TV Justice
ABC explores ex-city man’s prison plight MUG: Hennis BOX: On TV “Innocent Victims” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday on ABC, Rochester cable channels 5 and 6

2007
GI cleared in 1989 faces murder court-martial
Accusations follow ex-soldier
Expert links soldier to 1985 killings
DNA hearing wraps up
Acquitted of murder, he now faces Army justice
Ex-soldier faces trial in decades-old deaths
Army to try soldier who was acquitted of 1985 slayings

2008
3 capital murder trials to put Army in spotlight

2009
Army holds hearing for soldier charged in 1985 murders

2010
Judge Delays Murder Trial For Recalled Soldier
Rochester native accused in N.C. triple murder
Why ‘exonerated’ needs to be used sparingly
Federal judge: Hennis court-martial can proceed
Soldier acquitted in 3 deaths faces military trial
Soldier acquitted in 3 deaths faces military trial
Hennis court-martial begins at Fort Bragg
Twenty-five years later, third trial begins in triple slaying
Hennis Trial Underway
Army presents its case in trial over 1985 killings
Hennis jury shown clothes of victims
Army expert: DNA from scene matches NC soldier
Friends, family testify for convicted NC soldier
Family testifies in Hennis sentencing
Military jury finds Hennis guilty of murder
Jury considers death for Hennis
Soldier Gets Death Sentence in Military Court after Civil Acquittal
Ex-Lakewood resident gets death in 1985 slayings
Soldier gets death sentence in 1985 Fayetteville triple slaying
Soldier sentenced to die for 1985 triple murder
For 2nd Time, Man Sentenced to Death for Murders
Prosecutor Emphasizes DNA in Hennis Closing
At 3rd Trial, Sergeant Guilty of 1985 Triple Murder
In 3rd Trial, Conviction in Murders From 1985
Military Jury Finds Hennis Guilty of Murder
Hennis found guilty of decades-old murders
Military Jury Convicts Soldier of Murder 20 Years After his Civilian Acquittal
Soldier’s family pleads for jury to spare his life
25 years later, widower recalls slain family
Father, daughter tell of pain 1985 triple murder caused
A murder conviction, but pain still felt
Tim Hennis case to be featured on 20/20

2011
NC soldier: SBI lab problems should mean new trial
Court-martial murder conviction appealed
Ex-Soldier Convicted Twice of Eastburn Triple Murder Appeals Again
Three Trials for Murder: In the name of justice, did the military sidestep double jeopardy?

2012
‘Unusual Suspects’: Military Man Convicted & Sentenced To Death Twice, Acquitted Once 
Court Rules Against Ex-Soldier in NC Triple Murder
Fort Bragg commander approves Timothy Hennis conviction, death sentence
An Execution Draws Closer
Timothy HENNIS, Petitioner–Appellant, v. Frank HEMLICK; Patrick Parrish, Colonel; Lloyd J. Austin, III, General; John McHugh, Honorable, Respondents–Appellees
Timothy Hennis v. Frank Hemlick et al. (US Court of Appeals)

2013
Nidal Hasan, and the 5 other men on the military’s death row

2014
Master sergeant on death row files new petition
Former Fort Bragg soldier again appeals conviction
Master sergeant on death row files new petition
What to Watch on Sunday: CNN’s ‘Death Row Stories’ looks at Hennis case in NC
Triple murder suspect goes from guilty to innocent and back to guilty
NC triple murder suspect goes from guilty to innocent and back to guilty

2015
10 Mysteries Resolved By Unbelievable Surprise Twists
CNN special with local attorney set for tonight
Timothy Hennis seeks relief in federal court; former Fort Bragg soldier questions Army’s jurisdiction in court-martial
Timothy Hennis case: Federal judge dismisses latest appeal
On military death row, execution is anything but guaranteed
Fair and Impartial? Military Jurisdiction and the Decision to Seek the Death Penalty
TIMOTHY B. HENNIS, Petitioner, v. ERICA NELSON, Commandant, USDB-Ft. Leavenworth, Respondent
Setting the Right Example: Removing the Military Death Penalty

2016
Eastburn Murders Expose a Loophole in the Law
Army court upholds death sentence of former Bragg soldier
Appeal by former Fort Bragg soldier who murdered mother and 2 daughters was rejected in military court
Timothy Hennis’ death sentence fits his gruesome crimes, court rules
Army CCA affirms death for Hennis
Army court upholds death sentence of former Bragg soldier
A look at the 6 inmates on US military death row

2017
Court-martialing retirees? ‘Fat Leonard’ cloud still looms for many current and former sailors
Hennis lawyers argue for more resources in murder appeal
Innocent Victims: The Horrific Eastburn Family Murders
The Eastburn Family Murders and The Three Trials of Staff Sergeant Tim Hennis
Army moves closer to first execution in 50 years; Ronald Gray on death row since 1988
Tim Hennis and the Eastburn Murders
Episode 3: The Case of Timothy Hennis | Death’s Door
The Many Trials of Tim Hennis
Episode 28: The Eastburn Family Murders | In Sight Pod
028 The Eastburn Family Murders | In Sight: A True Crime Podcast
United States v. Timothy Hennis | US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
US Appellee v. Timothy B. HENNIS, Master Sergeant, United States Army, Appellant | US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Death Penalty Information Center:
Description of Cases for those Sentenced to Death in U.S. Military
Former Death Row Inmate Acquitted in One Court, Now Convicted in Another

Video Links:
3 People on Death Row Who May Be Innocent Part 2
Unusual Suspects: Mother’s Day Murders (Investigation Discovery)
20/20 on ID: Witness | Investigation Discovery
Death Row Stories: Hennis Trailer | CNN
I did the crime…you’re doin’ the time | Death Row Stories | CNN
Death penalty case’s ‘Perry Mason moment’ | Death Row Stories | CNN
Timothy Hennis Double Jeopardy | Death Row Stories | CNN
Timothy Hennis | Death Row Stories | Netflix
Innocent Victims | ABC Television Movie

Book:
Innocent Victims: The True Story of the Eastburn Family Murders (Google)
Innocent Victims: The True Story of the Eastburn Family Murders (Amazon)