By BENNIE IVORY
The Sentinel-Record 6-15-1979
Two witnesses have been subpoenaed to testify today before a Hot Spring County Grand Jury that will be presented with evidence by Prosecutor Dan Harmon, who is seeking a first-degree murder indictment against Hot Springs Police Lt. Thurman Abernathy.
Mrs. Sara Edwards of Hot Springs, and Sgt. Mike Fletcher, a criminal investigator with the Arkansas State Police, are scheduled to appear before the 16-member panel, which will be sworn in at 9 a.m. today.
Harmon has said the proceeding, which will be conducted solely for the purpose of the Abernathy case, should not go beyond one day.
A first-degree murder charge against Abernathy for the 1976 death of Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy Linda Edwards was dropped earlier this week so the case could be presented to the Grand Jury for consideration.
Edwards, who died of a severe skull fracture, disappeared on Aug. 22, 1976, and parts of her skeletal remains were found in February, 1977, in a heavily wooded area in western Hot Spring County.
Abernathy was charged with the crime in June, 1977, and has been on indefinite suspension from the police department without pay since then. He has been free on $50,000 bond.
Harmon announced in March he would not prosecute Abernathy on the charge without the backing of a grand jury indictment. He said he based the decision on a state Supreme Court ruling that limited testimony crucial to the prosecution’s case against the lieutenant.
Harmon said if an indictment is returned against Abernathy, the case would be prosecuted within 60 days.
The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that only a small portion of the testimony of Sara Edwards (unrelated to Linda Edwards) was admissible in court.
Sara Edwards, a close friend of the dead woman, had testified in a preliminary hearing last year that Linda Edwards had told her 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 that testimony could not be admitted because it was hearsay.
Sara Edwards also testified that Linda Edwards told her she was going to meet Abernathy on the night she disappeards.
The court said that testimony was an exception to the hearsay rule and could be presented because it showed the victim’s state of mind on the night in question.
Harmon has said he would not present the portion of Sara Edwards’ testimony that was ruled inadmissible to the Grand Jury.
The Garland County Grand Jury investigated the case in 1976 before the victim’s body was found but took no action.