By BENNIE IVORY
The Sentinel-Record 6-1-1979
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randall Williams Thursday said June 15 has been tentatively set as the empanelment date of a Hot Spring County Grand Jury that will hear evidence concerning a first-degree murder charge against Hot Springs Police Lt. Thurman Abernathy.
Williams was appointed to preside over the proceeding because the current Hot Spring County Circuit Judge, John W. Cole, filed the charge against Abernathy when he was the prosecutor.
Williams said the case likely will be submitted to the Grand Jury on the day of the empanelment.
Abernathy is accused of of killing Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy Linda Edwards, who disappeared on Aug. 22, 1976. Her skeletal remains were found in February, 1977, in a forest in western Hot Spring County.
Authorities said she died of a severe skull fracture.
He was charged in June, 1977, and has been on indefinite suspension from the police department without pay since then. He is free on $50,000 bond.
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon in March announced that he would not prosecute Abernathy on the charge because of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that limited the prosecution’s case against the lieutenant.
Instead, Harmon said he would file a motion to drop the charge then submit the case to the Grand Jury.
The Supreme Court ruled that only part of the testimony of a key prosecution witness could be admitted into court.
The witness, Sara Edwards, (no relation to the dead woman), testified in a preliminary hearing last year that Linda Edwards had told her she was going to meet Abernathy on the night she disappeared. The court said that testimony could be introduced into court.
However, the court also said that other testimony by Sara Edwards could not be admitted.
That included statements that Linda Edwards had said she was sexually involved with Abernathy, who is married; that she was pregnant by him and that he wanted her to have an abortion against her wishes.
The Supreme Court said since there was no proof to corroborate the testimony that she was pregnant by Abernathy, it could not be ruled admissible.
Harmon has said he would prosecute the case if the Grand Jury returns an indictment. However, he said he would not pursue the matter if no indictment is returned unless new evidence is developed.
The Garland County Grand Jury investigated the case in 1976 before the victim’s body was found but took no action.