An editorial: Linda Edwards murder case poorly handled from start

The Sentinel-Record 7-16-1977

It is inconceivable to us that a city police lieutenant could be the prime suspect in a first degree murder case and be able to remain on his job, as was the situation with Lt. Thurman Abernathy now charged with the murder of Linda Edwards.

For nearly a year after the female deputy Sheriff’s disappearance last August until just last week, Lt. Abernathy was considered by state police investigators as the principal suspect in the killing.

But, at no time did the Police Chief or members of our Civil Service Commission order Abernathy to take a polygraph test, which he had refused to take voluntarily.

As a matter of fact, the state police investigative report in the Edwards case showed that Abernathy was uncooperative with investigators from the beginning.

He even refused to be interrogated at State Police Headquarters where other witnesses were summoned to testify about the case.

Now there’s no questioning Lt. Abernathy’s constitutional rights as a suspect. A person certainly isn’t required to testify against him or herself. But it’s both puzzling and distressing that a professional policeman wouldn’t want to cooperate fully with getting to the bottom of any murder, especially that of a wrong he had known.

He was an officer who took the oath, with duties and obligations not common to ordinary citizens.

There are states where policemen who refuse an order to submit to a polygraph about criminal acts they might be involved in are suspended and even fired from their jobs.

The reasoning behind such action is obvious. Police officers are in very-visible, highly-sensitive positions of public trust where abuse of integrity cannot be tolerated.

Had Abernathy been ordered to submit to a polygraph last year, he might have been cleared of any public suspicion overnight, or at least a dark cloud would have passed

But, instead, the citizens of Hot Springs and the many honest, hard-working policemen on the local force have had to endure a lengthy, painful and unjust experience.

Police Chief Grover Douglas admitted in a news story Thursday that his department had been damaged by the Edwards’ murder case and Abernathy’s attitude.

There were rumors flying from every direction in Hot Springs about city police cover-ups and conspiracies. But, we believe they were only that unfounded, unfair rumors.

Many thought nothing would ever happen legally in the murder. They were wrong. The charges are filed, based on whatever evidence Prosecutor John Cole has amassed, and now we’ll wait and watch.

The fact that Cole elected to file his case in Malvern’s Municipal Court for a probable cause hearing rather than in Circuit Court with other murder cases tells us he likely has the same evidence he’s held onto for eight or nine months.

But whatever the outcome of the trial it will not solve the problem that stretched this situation out to a ridiculous length, action should have been taken much earlier than it was.

And if our police force doesn’t have a policy requiring policemen to either submit to a polygraph or face suspension if they are prime suspects in a murder, then we darned-well need one by tomorrow at the latest.

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