A former master sergeant who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of a North Carolina woman and her two children has filed a new appeal.

Timothy Hennis, who was pulled from retirement to stand trial, was convicted in April 2010 of killing Kathryn Eastburn and her young daughters in their Fayetteville home in 1985.

The 14-person jury took less than three hours to convict Hennis of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to death after that same jury deliberated for 13 hours during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Now, in an Oct. 14 petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Hennis argues he was "unlawfully ordered to active duty" in 2006, and therefore he was not in a status that subjected him to court-martial jurisdiction.

The petition is pending before the court, officials said Wednesday.

This was the third time Hennis had been tried in the May 1985 deaths of Eastburn, the wife of an Air Force officer who was away at training, and her two daughters, who were 5 and 3 at the time. A 22-month-old daughter was found unharmed in her crib.

A sergeant at the time, Hennis was convicted and sentenced to death by the state of North Carolina in 1986.

Claiming he received an unfair trial on weak evidence, Hennis, who was 27 at the time he was charged, won his appeal and was acquitted in 1989 of the same charges.

The parachute rigger returned to the ranks and by all appearances put the ordeal behind him, serving in the Gulf War and steadily earning promotions until he retired in 2004 as a master sergeant.

In an unusual move, the Army pulled Hennis out of retirement in the fall of 2006, ordering him back into uniform to stand trial again, based on evidence unearthed by the sheriff's office in Cumberland County.

During the three-week court-martial, a former forensic analyst with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation testified that sperm on a swab taken from Eastburn's body matched Hennis' DNA profile. Using a database that mirrors the population of North Carolina, she said the odds that the sperm came from another white man were 12.1 quadrillion to one.

Prosecutor Capt. Matthew Scott said Hennis might have been able to clean up the crime scene, but he couldn't clean up his DNA.

Defense lawyer Frank Spinner stressed that no other physical evidence found in the home, including hair, fingerprints and a bloody towel, 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.

The Eastburn slayings drew intense media attention in 1985 because of the gruesome nature of the crimes and how closely they mirrored another explosive crime, also at Fort Bragg, that took place in 1970.

In that case, Capt. (Dr.) Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters at their Fort Bragg home. MacDonald has been in prison since 1982 and has appealed his case numerous times before the U.S. Supreme Court, maintaining that his family was murdered by four drug-crazed intruders.

Though the MacDonald case was more infamous, the Eastburn slayings also spawned a book and made-for-TV movie, as well as websites dedicated to dissecting the murders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

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