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The Hennis case

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Dick Whitman, Nov 12, 2011.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    The link doesn't do the piece justice, because this week's piece in the New Yorker on a 1985 North Carolina triple homicide is probably the most compelling piece of crime journalism since the Willingham piece in the same magazine a couple years ago.

    Don't read the link or my recap if you don't like SPOILERS:


    Some of you may be familiar with the case. In 1985, a woman and her two young daughters were murdered while her husband was away for the Air Force. A man who had recently purchased a dog from her was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

    A few years later, he was exonerated for reasons documented in the story, including serious (and legitimate) questions about witness reliability. He was released. A best-selling book was written about his ordeal. A miniseries was made. He went onto a successful military career, was a Boy Scout leader, a pillar of the community, a father and spouse, and so on.

    Then, 20 years later, the prosecutors went back and tested semen in evidence now that DNA testing is perfected. As it turned out, the semen found in the victim was his. Of course, our nation has rules against double jeopardy. There are some exceptions. You can be tried in state and federal court separately for the same crime, if it is a federal crime, as well (murder is not a federal crime). Also, apparently, if you are a member of the military, you can be court-martialed for a civilian crime.

    So in this case, the military called him back to active duty, just so they could court martial him. Then, he was tried again, convicted, and sentenced (again) to death. He sits on death row today.

    The piece brings up so many hard questions it is mind-boggling. Here are but a couple worth discussing:

    (1) Should the Army's end-around the double jeopardy clause in the Constitution be condemned? Should the loophole be closed? Or is the greater good served since justice was finally served here?

    (2) Should the murderer here really be subject to the death penalty? His crime certainly was heinous enough to merit it. On the other hand, if the idea is removing worthless people from society rather than sheer retribution, it's hard to argue that he deserves it. In the 20 years hence, he has proven himself as a valuable member of the community. He was never, I don't believe, arrested again. He had a distinguished military career. He was an impeccable family man.

    Thoughts? I find it fascinating. As you guys know, I usually find crime-and-punishment issues fascinating.

    YGBFKM Guest

    As to the last part of 2), it's not like he made a stupid mistake and is unnecessarily paying for it. He killed three people. He deserves the punishment he got. Why it's even a question is beyond me. There was a similar line of thinking in regard to Paterno and the Penn State case, but a person's good acts should not absolve them to any extent of responsibility for their bad acts when those acts are especially bad. And these acts are heinous as can be.
  3. TigerVols

    TigerVols Well-Known Member

    This case was featured in a Dateline NBC a few weeks back. It was pretty amazing.
  4. qtlaw

    qtlaw Well-Known Member

    The distinction i see is that he was on active duty when he committed the murders so the military should have had jurisdiction when the murders occurred.
  5. three_bags_full

    three_bags_full Well-Known Member

    Near the top of your description you say he was away in the Air Force. Near the bottom, you call it the "Army's end around." Which is it? Was he in the Army or Air Force?
  6. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Different guys.
  7. Cubbiebum

    Cubbiebum Member

    Read it again. This husband was away in the Air Force, the guilty party was called back into the Army.
  8. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    I don't see a huge difference between this scenario (failed state prosecution, prosecution in military courts) and the long-used tactic of trying people in federal courts when a state prosecution fails and there has been a violation of federal law. Probably the most well known examples of that are when the federal government pursues civil rights violations after a state jury refused to convict. Obviously Hennis defense attorneys are going to claim otherwise and law professors will have countless cocktail hour discussions about it and crank out thousands of pages of law review articles on it because the situation here is unique, especially with Hennis being recalled from the ready reserve to face charges. But it's really not that different than any of the dual sovereignty/double jeopardy questions that have been answered over and over by the courts when people are tried in both federal and state courts -- or sometimes in two separate states courts -- because two governments have jurisdiction over the same illegal act.

    To me the questions are: Did the Uniform Code of Military Justice apply to Hennis at the time of the crime? Yes. Was he still under the jurisdiction of the military at the time of the military prosecution? Yes because he was in the ready reserve or the retired reserve. Did he violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice? Yes. Is the Uniform Code of Military Justice the same law under the same authority as North Carolina's homicide statute? No. Then, in my mind, jeopardy didn't attach during the state prosecutions and he can properly rot in a military prison.

    Also, it's wrong to say that murder is not a federal crime. It is most definitely a federal crime if the federal government has jurisdiction. The federal government doesn't have jurisdiction in the overwhelming majority of murders, but there are situations where it does, such as when it occurs on federal property or a federal agent is killed.
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