FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Prosecutors contended Wednesday that science finally caught up to a former Rochester man accused of killing a mother and her two daughters 25 years ago in their North Carolina home.
But a defense attorney countered that new DNA evidence may really only show that 52-year-old Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis was having an affair with the woman and had nothing to do with the slayings.
"Does the evidence take you beyond adultery to murder?" lawyer Frank Spinner asked the 14-member military jury during his closing arguments. "You should follow that evidence wherever it leads you, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you."
Jurors deliberated about one hour Wednesday before breaking for the night. Their work follows three weeks of testimony in the trial, which is the third Hennis has faced since the slayings. He is charged with three counts of premeditated murder and could face the death penalty if the jury is unanimous with a conviction and sentence.
Deliberations were to continue this morning.
Hennis grew up in Rochester and graduated from Mayo High School in 1976. He worked in Rochester until he joined the Army in 1980. His father was a manager at IBM Rochester in the 1970s.
Hennis was first convicted in a North Carolina state court but won an appeal and was acquitted in a second trial. He couldn't be tried in state court again, so prosecutors brought the case to the Army after more advanced scientific testing determined Hennis' DNA was inside 31-year-old Kathryn Eastburn. Hennis had retired and was living in Washington state but was forced back into service to face the charges.
In 1996, a two-part ABC television miniseries called "Innocent Victims" told the story of the murders, Hennis's conviction and subsequent release.
Hennis has been calm throughout the proceedings, quietly taking notes and meeting the gaze of prosecutors. He did not testify.
He had adopted the Eastburns' dog several days before the killings and was arrested four days after the bodies of Eastburn and her 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters were found in their Fayetteville home in 1985. Eastburn's husband, Air Force Capt. Gary Eastburn, was in Alabama at squadron officers training school at the time.
Prosecutor Capt. Matthew Scott said Hennis might have been able to clean up the crime scene back then, but he couldn't clean up his DNA.
"The person that slaughtered her, raped her — the person that raped her left his sperm," Scott said.
But Spinner stressed that no other physical evidence, including hair, fingerprints and a bloody towel found in the home, has been linked to Hennis. A defense expert testified during the trial that Hennis and the victim could have been intimate days before the killings.
"Their lives intersected with evil that night," Spinner said, "but Sergeant Timothy Hennis was not the man that did these things."