Procedural rulings made in police slayings

By JERRY DEAN
Arkansas Democrat  March 6, 1979

The state Supreme Court Monday issued two procedural rules in cases involving slayings of police officers in Garland and Washington counties.

The court ordered a Washington Circuit Court to allow James Ray Renton, 40, of Denison, Texas, a bail hearing to determine whether he should be released pending trial for the slaying of a Springdale policeman; and it ordered a Hot Spring Circuit Court to allow as evidence testimony given by friend of the second victim, Garland County Deputy Sheriff Linda Edwards.

Renton, formerly on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list, was arrested in May 1977 at Aurora, Colo., and was extradited to Arkansas to be tried for the Dec. 21, 1975, execution style slaying of Springdale policeman John Hussey, 23, at a wooded site off U.S. 71 between Fayetteville and Springdale. Hussey had been handcuffed and shot twice in the head.

Former Circuit Judge Maupin Cummings of Fayetteville had denied Renton’s request for a bail hearing, burden of proving that the presumption of his guilt was not great.  Cummings since has retired and his successor, former Prosecuting Attorney Mahlon G. Gibson, has appointed a special judge to hear the case scheduled for trial April 16 at Huntsville.

In petitioning the Supreme Court for the habeas corpus writ, Renton contended that he was wrongfully denied bail because of a 1975 case in which the court ruled that the mere filing of an information against an accused did not alone satisfy the Fourth Amendment guarantee against illegal detention.

Cummings had denied bail for Renton based on a 1974 case which held that the filing of an information against an accused in a capital case raised enough presumption of guilt that the defendant must demonstrate his own entitlement to bail bond.

The later case, the Supreme Court said, indicated that a person could not be detained indefinitely solely because he had been charged in an information rather than by grand jury indictment.

“The burden is not on the accused to demonstrate his right to freedom,” the court said in an opinion written by Associate Justice George Rose Smith. “It is on the state to demonstrate its right to keep him in confinement…  in a capital case, the state must assume the burden of proving that bail should be denied… otherwise, the accused is subjected to the difficult task of proving the negative, when it is the state which has instituted the prosecution.”

The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Hot Springs Circuit Judge Henry B. Means that a certain testimony and a prosecutor planned to introduce in the murder trial of Thurman Abernathy was inadmissible because it was hearsay.

Abernathy, who is suspended without pay as a Hot Springs police lieutenant, is charged with murdering Linda Edwards, a Garland County deputy sheriff, in August 1976.

Means had ruled as hearsay the testimony by a woman who knew Miss Edwards to the effect that she had said she was going to meet Abernathy on the night she disappeared.  Miss Edwards’ skeletal remains were discovered by hunters in a densely forested area of Hot Spring county in February 1977.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Associate Justice George Rose Smith, ruled Monday that the testimony that Miss Edwards has said she was going to meet Abernathy is admissible because of an evidentiary rule allowing statements of intent.

Other parts of the testimony by Miss Edwards’ friend about their conversations – including reported statements by Miss Edwards that she and Abernathy were involved in a sexual relationship and she was pregnant with a child she believed he had fathered – are not admissible as evidence, the Supreme Court ruled.

Abernathy, who has not yet come to trial on the murder charge, is free on bond

 

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