Abernathy: Evidence Reviewed

The Sentinel-Record 3-6-1979

Hot Spring County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon said Monday he will have to re-evaluate the first-degree murder case of Hot Springs Police Lt. Thurman Abernathy in view of a ruling in the case earlier in the day by the State Supreme Court.

The higher court ruled Monday that certain testimony ruled inadmissible last year in a hearing concerning the case can be admitted into court.

Then-Hot Spring County Circuit Judge Henry Means ruled in an August hearing that all of the testimony of Sara Edwards was inadmissible, saying it was hearsay.

The prosecutor is basing much of its case on similar testimony.

Abernathy is charged in the death of Linda Edwards, a Garland County sheriff’s deputy who disappeared Aug. 22, 1976. Parts of the woman’s skeletal remains were discovered by hunters in a heavily-wooded area in Hot Spring County several months after her disappearance.

Abernathy, who is free on $50,000 bond, was placed on indefinite suspension from the police department without pay after his arrest in June, 1977.

In the August hearing, Sara Edwards, who is not related to the dead woman, testified that Linda Edwards told her she was going to meet Abernathy on the night she disappeared.

The Supreme Court ruled that testimony should have been ruled admissible.

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

That testimony included statements that Linda Edwards had said she allegedly had been 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 she was pregnant by Abernathy, it could not be ruled admissible.

Sara Edwards had also quoted Linda Edwards as mentioning comments made to her by Abernathy following a meeting between the lieutenant and Linda Edwards on the night she disappeared. Those statements also were ruled inadmissible.

Harmon declined to comment on the ruling late Monday afternoon, saying he had not seen the ruling.

Harmon, who took office in January, said he is not totally familiar with the case and needs to review it before responding.

“I need to review the ruling to see where that puts us (the prosecution),” he said. “I would be afraid to comment without reviewing this thing carefully.”

Little Rock lawyer Jack Holt, Jr., who is representing Abernathy in the case, said he feels the ruling was “99 percent” in Abernathy’s favor.

“As I understand the ruling,” he said, “the court said they would permit some hearsay testimony. The court said the statement of Linda that she was going to meet Thurman that night was admissible to show a pre-existing state of mind. I would say the ruling was 99 percent in Thurman Abernathy’s favor.”

Holt said the Supreme Court based its ruling on an out-of-state case. He said in that case the jurisdictional court held that some hearsay can be admitted under rare circumstances to show a pre-existing state of mind.

Holt said he has no idea whether Harmon will try the case but will consult with him sometime this week.

He said if Harmon decides to prosecute, he will ask for the earliest possible setting for the trial.

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