Seeking $200,000: Edwards’ mother files suit against Abernathy

The Sentinel-Record 8-16-1979

Gladys Irene Browning, the mother of Linda Edwards, has filed a civil suit in Garland County Circuit Court, alleging former city policeman Thurman Abernathy is responsible for her daughter’s death and seeks a court compensation judgment of $200,000.

The petition states, “That on or about Aug. 26, 1976, in the county of Garland, the defendant, Thurman Abernathy, willfully, purposefully and deliberately killed the decedent by striking her in the head with a blunt object, fracturing the decedent’s skull.

“Then after fracturing Linda Louise Ockert Edwards’ skull, causing her death, the defendant abandoned her so that her remains were not found until February 1977,” the suit claims.

It further alleges Linda Edwards, a radio operator at the Garland County Sheriff’s Department when she died “was pregnant with the defendant’s child.”

The petition asserts the actions of the defendant prevented the 29-year-old victim from reaching her normal life expectancy age of 41, and deprived the Edwards children of their mother’s companionship.

The suit was filed by Batesville attorney John Norman Harkey in behalf of Mrs. Browning, who was named executor of her daughter’s estate Nov. 29, 1976.

Mrs. Browning, contacted Wednesday evening, would make no statement concerning the suit.

“I have no comment. I don’t have anything to say right now, I’m sorry,” she said.

The defendant in the case said by phone he realized civil litigation against him was possible, but he did not think it actually would occur.

“I can understand Mrs. Browning’s feelings of wanting to know what happened to her daughter and who did it, but to persecute against me is totally unwarranted, “Abernathy said.

“I had hoped that everything would be over with and quieting down, but apparently it hasn’t. The charges against me were serious and someone needs to be caught. The person who did the crime, “he added.

Abernathy said he was unaware if the civil suit when he resigned from the police department last Thursday. The city Civil Service Commission reinstated the 12-year police veteran back to the force on July 17.

He said his legal problems over the last two years has placed a great deal of strain on himself and his family.

“It’s very tough, that’s why I had hoped it would be the end of it when the Hot Spring County grand jury said there wasn’t any evidence’ to link him to the Edwards’ death,“ he said.

Abernathy said Little Rock attorney Jack Holt Jr., who represented Abernathy in the criminal case, will handle the civil proceedings.

Abernathy’s legal problems began about a year after hunters discovered the partially buried remains of Linda Edwards in February of 1977 while walking through a wooded area in western Hot Spring County.

She had been reported missing on Aug. 22, 1976.

Roughly a year later, a first-degree murder charge was filed in Hot Spring County against Abernathy in connection with the death.

He was suspended from the city force, without pay, by the Civil Service Commission when the charge was lodged. Abernathy was a police lieutenant and working as a narcotics officer.

During a subsequent preliminary hearing, Abernathy’s attorney objected to portions of a key prosecution witness’ testimony, considered crucial to the case.

The state Supreme Court earlier this year upheld the attorney’s objection and the murder charge was dismissed.

The  Edwards  case  was  then  turned over to a Hot Spring County grand jury and it ruled there was insufficient evidence to indict Abernathy.

Abernathy then petitioned the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission for reinstatement and Commissioners voted July 17 to lift the suspension because there were no criminal charges pending against him.

The day after he was reinstated, Police Chief Grover Douglas demoted Abernathy to the rank of sergeant for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Abernathy had filed a letter of protest regarding the demotion, but suddenly last Thursday submitted a letter of resignation.

The City Council last week voted to pay Abernathy $14,854 in back pay earnings.

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