FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, March 18, 2010) -- Opening statements began Wednesday in the long-postponed court-martial case of United States v. Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis, his third trial in a decades-old murder case.

Hennis is charged with three counts of premeditated murder in the May 9, 1985, slayings of Kathryn Eastburn and her two young daughters, Erin and Kar, in Fayetteville, N.C. The charges facing Henna are violations of Article 118 (1) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. An alleged rape charge in the same case has been dropped.

Hennis could receive the death sentence if convicted.

A sergeant and parachute rigger stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of the murders, Hennis adopted the Eastburn family dog two days before the incident, which is when he reportedly met Kathryn Eastburn.

Gary Eastburn, then an Air Force officer, was away from home at the time of the slayings. He was notified a day later that his wife and 3- and 5-year-old daughters had been brutally "stabbed to death with a sharp object." The Eastburn's third 22-month daughter was found unharmed in a crib.

Investigators never found a murder weapon.

Sentenced to death in 1986 by North Carolina, Hennis' first trial weighed heavily on an eyewitness who saw a person matching Hennis' description leaving the Eastburn home at about 3:30 a.m. the morning after the murders. According to the Associated Press, the witness picked Hennis out of a photo lineup.

In 1989 the Hennis ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court on the basis of an unfair trial and weak evidence. Prosecutors in the first trial also reportedly used an excessive number of graphic autopsy photographs of the victims, which were not used in the second trial. Hennis was acquitted and returned to active duty in the Army where he went on to fight in Operation Desert Storm, and was promoted through the ranks until an honorable retirement in 2004.

But in 2006, citing new DNA evidence, the Army recalled Hennis back to active duty -- to be tried in a court-martial and again face the death sentence. According to information released by the prosecutors, new DNA evidence which wasn't yet developed in the 1980s allegedly links Hennis to the crime.

The Hennis trial doesn't fall under the double-jeopardy clause because the clause only pertains to courts in the same jurisdiction. Hennis can legally be tried again by the military because it is a federal entity.

Judge Col. Patrick Parrish presides over the court-martial case with 14 panel members of enlisted Soldiers and officers.

Gary Eastburn was the first witness to testify Wednesday morning. Fort Bragg sources indicated the case may take up to two months to complete.

(Compiled from Fort Bragg press releases and other sources.)