By BENNIE IVORY
The Sentinel-Record 8-9-1978
MALVERN – After listening to about 30 minutes of testimony, Hot Spring County Judge Henry B. Means Tuesday ruled inadmissible testimony about alleged statements Garland County Sheriff Deputy Linda Edwards made in conversations with a friend almost two years ago that link Hot Springs Police Lt. Thurman Abernathy to her death.
The case is scheduled beginning Monday, but Judge Means’ ruling seriously jeopardizes the prosecution’s case – much of which is based on statements Mrs. Edwards made to other persons about her relationship with Abernathy prior to her death.
Abernathy is charged with first degree murder in connection with the death of Mrs. Edwards, who disappeared on Aug 22, 1976. Her skeletal remains were found in a mountainous area just inside the Hot Spring County line, in February, 1977.
An autopsy report indicated she died of multiple skull fractures.
Abernathy, who was arrested in June, 1977, is on indefinite suspension from the police department and free on $50,000 bond.
Judge Means made his ruling after Sarah Edwards, a radio dispatcher with the Arkansas State Police who is no relation to the deceased, testified about conversations she had with Linda Edwards over about a three-year period in which she told her about her involvement with Abernathy and that she had planned to meet with him the night she disappeared.
Means held that Sarah Edwards’ testimony was inadmissible because it is hearsay and, therefore, cannot be presented to a jury.
Defense attorney Jack Holt, Jr., of Little Rock, had filed a motion to suppress the testimony of Sarah Edwards and others about alleged statements Linda Edwards made before her death that are related to the case.
Holt contended the alleged statements are “patent” hearsay and, if presented to a jury, would deny Abernathy the right to cross-examination under the circumstances of the case. He asked the court to either dismiss the charge against his client or exclude the statements from consideration to the jury.
Hot Spring County Prosecuting Attorney John Cole, however, argued that the statements are exceptions to the hearsay rule and should be admissible.
Means said in his opinion the exception rule does not apply in this case.
At that point, Cole said there was no need to proceed with the hearing because the testimony of the rest of the witnesses be had subpoenaed would not “vary substantially” from that of Sarah Edwards, the only person to testify.
Cole said he will re-assess his case and make a decision sometime today on whether or not to dismiss’ the charge against Abernathy.
Sarah Edwards, who said she knew the victim as a friend for about four years before her murder, testified Linda Edwards had been involved with Abernathy for about three years prior to her death.
She said Linda Edwards expressed her “love” for Abernathy, who is married, in numerous conversations with her.
“It was to a point of worship,” she said. “She had a God-Like image. That’s all I heard for approximately this three-year period. It was almost everyday.”
Sarah Edwards also said Linda Edwards discussed her sexual relationship with Abernathy which subsequently led to her pregnancy.
She said Linda Edwards told her Abernathy was the father of the child but wanted her to have an abortion. However, she quoted Linda Edwards as saying Abernathy would not pay for the abortion because he said he did not have the money.
Linda Edwards and Abernathy had numerous arguments abortion, she said, but she finally decided against it.
“She said ‘this baby has as much right to live as any other,'” she quoted the deceased as saying.
On the Thursday night before her disappearance, Sarah Edwards said she telephoned Linda Edwards and learned she had had an argument with Abernathy on a Piggly Wiggly store parking lot.
She said she saw her twice on Aug. 22, 1976 – the last time Linda Edwards was seen alive – and she was “very mad.” She said it was a “cool” kind of “mad.”
“She said she was going to straighten this out one way or the other,” she quoted Linda Edwards as saying. “If he didn’t satisfy her, she was going to go up to Thurman’s wife”
She also said Linda Edwards said she was going to see an attorney the following Monday about changing her name to Abernathy.
Sarah Edwards said she cautioned Linda Edwards to be “careful” on the night she disappeared “but she said he (Abernathy) won’t hurt me.”