Off the Hook – August 8, 2021: Teresa Howell Dropped the Ball

It still hasn’t fully processed that Abernathy died without ever being prosecuted for my mother’s murder and her unborn baby, or for that matter, his own child.

In 2014, after the fiasco with the former Hot Spring County prosecutors’ office regarding my mother’s exhumation, I was hopeful when Teresa Howell was elected as the new prosecutor. She was positive and enthusiastic about reviewing my mother’s case file to see what could be done going forward.  She communicated with me and my wife and gave me hope. For several months she spoke to us and kept us informed of her progress through the case file after she received it from the Arkansas State Police (ASP). Once she finished reading it, she let us know that she had shared it with the sheriff of Hot Spring County to get a second opinion.   

We waited, patiently, and waited. 

Because it frustrates and can be difficult for me to talk about this ongoing, I often ask my wife to pass the emails or phone calls back and forth. I’m never out of the loop. When “new” information comes to light, she forwards it to the prosecutor. For instance, Toby Michael Green was in jail in Garland County. He reportedly had some information about Abernathy from the time of the murder. My wife emailed Howell April 2, 2019, to let her know he was in jail and put her in touch with the individual who had chat transcripts of Green’s comments. On April 12th, my wife followed up and Howell indicated she didn’t know who Green was, but that she had forwarded the chat transcripts to the ASP. She also stated that the last time she has spoken to the ASP they had not interviewed Green.

The email caused a sense of déjà vu.

In the early days, Howell had told me they would pursue DNA testing. She lied. It never happened during her more than five years in office. Now, I believe she never intended to do so. Initially she indicated she was attempting to track down evidence from the crime lab for possible DNA testing. She mentioned that she was specifically asking about a yellow blanket, whereabouts unknown. It was the same tired story we’ve heard from the beginning of how the crime lab returned all evidence to the ASP and the ASP can’t locate it. This was a major crime in Arkansas in the 70’s. I will never believe the evidence was “just” misplaced.

During this same time frame, we did ask, repeatedly, to meet with her in person to discuss some possibilities, including a coroner’s inquisition, alternative charges, and exhumation. Via email she replied that she had never been involved in a coroner inquisition and that she did not have the contact information or work location for the Hot Spring County coroner, though she did provide his name. She stated there were no additional charges due to the statute of limitations on homicide. And then noted that nothing in the case file was a “bright light.” That was the last communication until later in the year.

Garland County Coroner Steve Nawojczyk and deputy examine scene (Photo by Les Beale)
Garland County Coroner Steve Nawojczyk and deputy examine scene (Photo by Les Beale)

Steve Nawojczyk was Garland County coroner at the time of my mother’s death. After retirement, he began reaching out, writing, interviewing, and presenting my mother’s case to a variety of people. He too thought she deserved justice and some of his contacts from the Gang Wars documentary indicated they might be interested in doing a segment about the Linda Edwards case.

During his quest, he emailed Howell who again noted she had not found any of the evidence, stated that she had consulted with a funeral director about a disinterment of Linda Edwards’ body, stated that she spoke to the PA in Garland County and felt they would offer assistance, but did not indicate that an exhumation would actually take place and that she was busy with current cases and had not looked at our file in several weeks.  She also declined a video interview. Steve was not deterred and contacted a local news station. In November 2019, the Fox16 ran a story stating that Howell was moving forward with the exhumation.

My wife emailed the prosecutor on November 8th, thanking her for moving forward with the exhumation and asking for the date so the family could be present. She also told Howell that the family would have liked to have heard the news from the PA’s office rather than on the news, but were happy, nevertheless.

On November 11th, Howell emailed back stating that she would have preferred to have told the family when she had all the information together, but someone contacted the media first. She then stated that she would no longer communicate via email with my wife, even though this was the chain of communication that had long since been established, and that I was never out of the loop. Per the Victims’ Right Act, I did have the right to an advocate or speaker and she willfully choose to ignore my right in the communication chain. That is another story in of itself.

Not once, since November 11, 2019, have we heard anything from the Hot Spring County Prosecutor regarding the exhumation, DNA testing, or missing evidence.

It is doubtful any of the avenues will be legally pursued now that the prime suspect has died. It is probable the details that were withheld, lost, or misplaced will magically appear too late to make a difference.  Isn’t that how it normally goes? There are still those living who know the answers. They should come forward before they too meet their maker, justice in this life or the next? Their choice.

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