CAAF decided the Army case of United States v. Hennis, __ M.J. __, No. 17-0263/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on February 28, 2020. Hennis is a capital case and CAAF’s review is mandatory. Reviewing 40 issues raised by Hennis’ defense counsel and three issues raised by Hennis personally – but discussing only the five issues on which the court granted oral argument – CAAF affirms the findings, the sentence to death, and the decision of the Army CCA.
Chief Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.
The court-martial conviction and sentencing of Master Sergeant (E-8) Hennis, U.S. Army (Retired) was our #2 military justice story of 2010. That year a general court-martial convicted Hennis of three specifications of premeditated murder and sentenced him to death. The case involved the gruesome rape and murder of Kathryn Eastburn, the wife of an Air Force captain who was out of town on temporary duty, and also the murder of the Eastburn’s two daughters, all of which occurred 25 years earlier, in 1985.
Hennis was tried three times for those crimes: twice by North Carolina and then finally by a court-martial. The first trial resulted in a conviction and death sentence, but it was reversed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1988. A retrial resulted in an acquittal in 1989, after which Hennis was reinstated in the Army and eventually transferred to the retired list where – like every other regular retiree – he remained subject to the UCMJ. Advances in DNA during the following years allowed investigators to determine that sperm found in the body of the murdered woman came from Hennis, and he was recalled to active duty in 2006, tried by court-martial for the murders, convicted, and again sentenced to death. The Army CCA affirmed the findings and sentence in 2016 (discussed here), 75 M.J. 796.
Hennis’ brief to CAAF raised dozens of challenges to his convictions and capital sentence, but CAAF heard oral argument on only five issues:
I. Whether a break in Appellant’s service foreclosed the exercise of court-martial jurisdiction.
II. Whether the charges arose in the Armed Forces, and fell within the subject matter jurisdiction of a capital court-martial.
III. Whether the court-martial had personal jurisdiction over Appellant.
IV. Whether the military judge denied appellant a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.
V. Whether the military judge abused his discretion in restricting defense counsel’s voir dire and in denying defense challenges for cause.
The court concludes that none of the issues in this case – not those heard at oral argument nor any of the others – provides a basis for relief, and it affirms Hennis’ convictions and sentence to death. As a result, Hennis remains one of only four people on military death row. The others are Gray and Akbar (whose convictions and sentence were affirmed by CAAF), and Hasan (whose case is still pending initial review by the Army CCA).