In Abernathy case: Grand Jury to receive murder evidence

The Sentinel-Record 6-8-1979

Evidence concerning a first degree murder charge against Hot Springs police Lt. Thurman Abernathy will be presented to a Hot Spring County Grand Jury next Friday morning, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon said Thursday.

Harmon said he will present the evidence to the Grand Jury immediately after the 16 jurors are empaneled at 9 a.m.

He said the proceeding should not go beyond one day.

“If they (the jurors) want to call other additional witnesses themselves . . .  I can’t anticipate that,” said Harmon. “We should be able to present everything we want on the 15th (Friday).”

Abernathy is charged in the death of Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy Linda Edwards, who disappeared on Aug. 22, 1976. Parts of her skeletal remains were discovered in February, 1977, by hunters in heavily-wooded area in western Hot Spring County.

Authorities said the woman died of a severe skull fracture.

Abernathy was subsequently charged in the case in June, 1977, and has been on indefinite suspension from the police department without pay since his arrest. He is free on $50,000 bond.

Harmon said he had not decided on how many witnesses would be subpoenaed but indicated that he would not subpoena Abernathy.

Harmon announced in March that he would not prosecute Abernathy on the current charge because of a state Supreme Court ruling that seriously restricted the prosecution’s case against the lieutenant.  Instead, he said he would submit the case to the grand jury for consideration.

The current charge against Abernathy will be dropped before the case is submitted to the Grand Jury, he said.

The Supreme Court dealt the prosecution a damaging blow when it ruled that only part of the testimony of one of the state’s key witnesses could be introduce into court.

The witness, Sarah Edwards (unrelated to the dead woman), gave testimony in a preliminary hearing last year that implicated Abernathy in the crime.

Then-Hot Spring County Circuit Judge Henry Means ruled that all of the woman’s testimony was inadmissible because it was hearsay.

Then-Prosecuting Attorney John W. Cole appealed the decision to the Supreme the decision to the Supreme Court, which earlier this year rule that only a small portion of Sara Edwards’ testimony could be admitted into court.

The Supreme Court ruled that Sara Edwards’ testimony that Linda Edwards had told her she was going to meet Abernathy on the night she disappeared was admissible.

Testimony that was ruled inadmissible included statements by Sarah Edwards that Linda Edwards was sexually involved with Abernathy, who is married: that she was pregnant by him: that he wanted her to have an abortion against her wishes and that they had violent arguments about her refusal to submit to an abortion.

Harmon said he would subpoena Sara Edwards to appear before the Grand Jury but would not present that part of her testimony to the panel.

“I may tell the grand jury about that evidence but I see no reason to present it,” he said.

Harmon said if the Grand Jury indicts Abernathy, the case would be prosecuted within 60 days.

A Garland County Jury made an inquiry into the case in 1976 before Linda Edwards’ body was found but took no action.

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