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1991 Viola murder case reopened

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The case of a 19-year-old Huntsville woman whose skeletal remains were found inside the Gum Springs Cemetery near Viola in 1991 has been reopened, but criminal charges have not been filed.

An anonymous source close to the investigation said investigators have compiled enough evidence to press charges against the suspect or suspects responsible for the death Sabrina Lynn Underwood.

But 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Don McSpadden said he's not convinced.

"Based on the single affidavit I've seen I'd have to say there isn't enough evidence," McSpadden said.

McSpadden said he received a five-page probable cause affidavit from Fulton County Prosecuting Attorney Dwayne Plumlee in June.

He said it would be hard to build a case that would stand up in court based on the evidence in the affidavit.

"It's full of heresay evidence," McSpadden said. "I would have some concerns presenting a case in court based on that evidence."

Underwood's remains were found April 8, 1991, by a turkey hunter who was walking near the isolated cemetery, said Fulton County chief deputy Paul Martin.

Martin, who was the Fulton County sheriff at the time, said she was seen alive Jan. 20, 1991, at a convenience store in Yellville.

He said she was hitchhiking from Huntsville to visit her boyfriend at the prison in Calico Rock when she disappeared.

Gum Springs Cemetery is approximately 10 miles northeast of Highway 223 -- the road that leads from Viola to Calico Rock.

Underwood's mother, Loretta Underwood, reported her daughter missing Jan. 24, 1991.

McSpadden said he has not seen an autopsy report to indicate what Underwood's cause of death was.

"I'm not sure anyone ever officially said she was murdered," McSpadden said.

An autopsy report doesn't exist, Martin said, because officers were unable to find enough of her body to have an autopsy performed.

"We spent a lot of hours combing the woods looking for her skull and other evidence," Martin said. "But we never found very much."

Investigators did find bone and hair fragments, clothes, a ring, a cigarette case, a pack of cigarettes and a notebook that contained phone numbers and addresses.

Martin said the hair sample and notebook were key in identifying Underwood.

"The notebook led us to Huntsville," Martin said. "And the hair we found in the cemetery matched a lock of hair found in Underwood's bedroom."

Martin said he has no doubt what happened to Underwood.

"I believe she was raped and killed," Martin said.

Martin said since charges have not been filed in the case he could not reveal what information had led him to that conclusion.

Despite the fact that charges haven't been filed, McSpadden said the case isn't closed.

"The sheriff's office and the state police are still on it," McSpadden said.

Martin said this case still haunts him to this day. He said Underwood had a young son who will never know his mother.

"She was a beautiful girl who didn't deserve what happened to her," Martin said. "I hope we're able to do something about it."



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