Decision in Abernathy Case Expected

By BENNIE IVORY
The Sentinel-Record 3-16-1979

Hot Spring County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon said Thursday he will confer with the Arkansas State Police before deciding whether to try Hot Springs Police Lt. Thurman Abernathy on a first-degree murder charge.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to get with the state police investigators,” said Harmon. “I will try to get with them next week. I think we will probably have some sort of announcement shortly. But I haven’t made any decision.”

Abernathy is charged in the death of Linda Edwards, a Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy who disappeared on the night of Aug. 22,1976.

He was arrested in June, 1977, after parts of the woman’s skeletal remains were found by hunters in western Hot Spring County.

Abernathy, who is free on $50,000 bond, has been on indefinite suspension from the police department without pay since his arrest.

Harmon, who took office in January inherited the case from former Hot Spring County Prosecuting Attorney John Cole, who filed the charge but is now the circuit judge in that county.

Cole will have to disqualify himself from the bench, if Harmon decides to prosecute Abernathy.

The case was set for trial last August but was delayed when Cole appealed a ruling by then-Circuit Judge Henry Means in a preliminary hearing concerning the admissibility of certain prosecution testimony.

Means ruled that all of the testimony of Sara Edwards, who described herself as a close friend of the dead woman, was inadmissible. He said it was hearsay.

In the hearing, Sara Edwards testified Linda Edwards told her she was going to meet Abernathy on the on the night she disappeared.

The Supreme Court last week said that testimony should have been ruled admissible.

However, the court also ruled that other testimony by Mrs. Sara Edwards could not be admitted into court.

That testimony included statements that Linda Edwards had said she was sexually involved with Abernathy, who is married, and was pregnant by him.

The Supreme Court said since there was no proof to corroborate the testimony that Linda Edwards was pregnant by Abernathy, it could not be ruled admissible.

Sara Edwards had also testified that Abernathy wanted Linda Edwards to have an abortion against her wishes. She said Linda Edwards told her she and the lieutenant had had several arguments about her refusal to get an abortion.

The prosecution is basing much of its own case on statements Linda Edwards made to other persons prior to her death.

Harmon said the ruling was not definitive but it appears to limit the states case.

“It didn’t really decide anything,” he said. “It left the only thing admissible, under the circumstances of the hearing, the very limited testimony of the lady that the victim was going to meet Abernathy. It appears to limit us very much.

He said the ruling placed the state in a dilemma of having to wait until the trial begins to determine whether the rest of the testimony can be admitted.

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