By LARRY AULT
DEMOCRAT ARKADELPHIA BUREAU 6-23-79
HOT SPRINGS – A Hot Springs police officer suspended from his job for two years while charged with the first-degree murder of a Garland County sheriff’s deputy has asked to be reinstated to the force. He was cleared of the charge a week ago.
Joe Poe, chairman of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, said Friday police Lt. Thurman Abernathy had sent a formal request to the commission that may be considered next week.
Abernathy was charged in June 1977 with the first-degree murder of Garland County sheriff’s deputy Linda Edwards, after her disappearance in August of 1976. Her skeletal remains were found in a wooded area of Hot Spring County in February 1977.
Abernathy was placed on indefinite suspension without pay at the time of his arrest. He was free on $50,000 bond pending his trial.
A special grand jury impaneled at Malvern in Hot Spring County a week ago reconsidered the evidence against Abernathy.
Benton Prosecutor Dan Harmon requested the grand jury investigation because he was unsure of the case against Abernathy after a state Supreme Court Ruling earlier this year restricted the evidence in the case. Some of the evidence was ruled to be hearsay.
Harmon said he would not prosecute Abernathy without the backing of a grand jury indictment. After considering the evidence in the case and meeting with two key witnesses, the grand jury returned a “no true bill” June 15 and reported it could not find sufficient evidence to indict the officer.
The first-degree murder charge against Abernathy was filed by former prosecuting attorney John Cole of Sheridan, who is now a circuit judge in the district. The charge was dismissed the same week of the grand jury probe by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randall Williams.
Hot Springs police officials indicated earlier that if Abernathy was cleared of the murder charge, he would be eligible to return to work.
At a recent meeting of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, City Attorney Curtis Ridgway presented the commission with an official request from Abernathy seeking reinstatement.
Abernathy, who is 39, served as an undercover narcotics agent during part of his 12-year association with the city police department. He did not appear at the commission meeting.
Ridgway told the commission the city had no alternative but to reinstate Abernathy, but asked that no decision be made on the request until both of the “no true bills” returned by the Hot Spring County grand jury could be secured.
In the request for reinstatement, Abernathy said “insomuch as all the allegations made which resulted in my being suspended from employment were formerly considered by the Garland County grand jury in October of 1976 and most recently by the Hot Spring County grand jury, at which time the grand jury formally returned a ‘no true bill,’ I feel as though I have been completely exonerated.”
Commission Chairman Poe said “We needed document proof from the court that this is what happened.”
Police interviews by the commission have been scheduled for 7 p.m. June 28 at the police station. Poe said at the time, if the documents are available, the commission will call a hearing on Abernathy’s request.
Poe would not speculate on whether or not the officer is entitled to back pay. “We don’t handle that,” he said, explaining consideration of back pay is a function of another branch of city government.
Asked if it is likely Abernathy will return to work, Poe said he had no reservations about approving the request.
“Everything has been dropped. He doesn’t have any charges against him.” Poe said of the officer.
Poe said Abernathy’s assignment in the police department is a decision to be made by Police Chief Grover Douglas.
Chief Douglas Friday would not comment on Abernathy’s assignment, if he is reinstated.
Douglas said any back pay the officer may be entitled to must be negotiated between Abernathy and the city finance director. It is possible approval by the city council will be necessary, he said.