Sunday, October 8, 2006

Military Prosecution After State Acquittal

A man who was acquitted in 1989 -- and became a symbol of the wrongly accused -- now may face charges for the same crimes in military court. He's been out of the Army since 2004, but he is being recalled so the Army can investigate the 1985 crimes, using DNA technology that wasn't available then. Accusations again pursue suspect in 1985 killings, despite acquittal, Seattle Times, Oct. 6, 2006.

Here's a timeline:

  • 1985 - Timothy Hennis, then stationed at Fort Bragg, adopts a dog from a family that is being relocated. Several days later the woman of the family is raped, and she and two of her children are killed. Hennis is charged with the crimes.
  • During Hennis's trial, the prosecution projects dozens of crime-scene photos onto a screen above his head. He is convicted and sentenced to death.
  • 1988 - The North Carolina Supreme Court reverses, finding that the use of the photos was prejudicial. Against an argument that the error was harmless, the court notes that the evidence against Hennis was not overwhelming -- Hennis "was linked to the crime through circumstantial evidence and through direct evidence upon which the witnesses' own remarks cast considerable doubt." A dissent would have found the photographs admissible. It recounts the evidence against Hennis. State v. Hennis, 323 N.C. 279, 372 S.E.2d 523
    (1988), Westlaw.
  • Hennis is retried. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus testifies as an expert about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Hennis is acquitted.
  • 1993 - A true-crime book covers the case: Scott Whisnant, Innocent Victims.
  • 1996 - The book is made into a TV movie.
  • 2004 - Hennis retires from the Army and settles in Lakewood, WA (Pierce County).
  • 2006? - Reviewing cold cases, the sheriff's office finds information related to the crimes and turns it over to the district attorney. The district attorney gives it to the military because further state prosecution is barred by double jeopardy.
  • 2006 - The Army recalls Hennis so it can pursue the investigation. It has jurisdiction over crimes committed by soldiers, even if they are off the base.
UW notes: The Times article quotes Prof. John Junker, explaining why a prosecution is possible despite the acquittal. Prof. Loftus was at the UW; she now teaches at UC-Irvine but still is an affiliate professor at the School of Law and in the Department of Psychology.

Thanks: Maureen Howard.

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