Suspect in Minot Abernathey murders released from prison, other serving life sentence

MINOT, N.D. - One of the two men convicted in the murder of an elderly couple after a burglary in Minot is out of prison after three decades.

Fifty-nine-year-old Calvin Newnam was convicted in the 1985 murder of Cora and Charley Abernathey.

In the 90s, he lead officers to the murder weapons and helped tie down a conviction for his accomplice, Kevin Austin.

Newnam is now a free man after serving time for the Abernathey murders.

His sentence was reduced from two life terms to 50 years after an agreement with law enforcement, prosecutors and the victim’s family.

Newnam is out after serving 33 years because of good time.

"The day of the homicide, winds were going 20 to 25 miles per hour. It was snowing," said Vern Erck, detective.

"Seventy-five-year-old Charley Abernathey and his wife 66 year old wife Cora were found dead in their rural Minot farmhouse Saturday afternoon."

The victims were shot in the head and their throats slashed at the scene of a double homicide 34 years ago.

"It was a horrible crime scene," said Erck.

Two men were convicted in the murders: Calvin Newnam and Kevin Austin.

"There are only four people that actually know what happened; the absolute truth. And unfortunately two of those people are deceased," said John VanGrinsven, former Ward County states attorney.

It all started with a need for cash.

"Calvin always maintained that it was Kevin's idea. He said he knew some old people up by his folks place that they could rob. It would be easy money," said Erck.

Around $300 was cashed from the Abernathey's pension fund check

"And that's what was missing," said VanGrinsven.

Austin upset they didn't have more.

"Charley told them, we're just poor people that's all the cash we have, and Kevin got angry at that," said Erck.

That's when detectives say the shooting began.

"Newnam is one of two men accused in the murders of Charley and Cora Abernathey."

Newnam confessed and was convicted in 1986. He was set to serve two consecutive life sentences.

The weapons were still missing and Austin was released.

"Until his alleged accomplice Calvin Newnam decides to testify against him."

"We knew we had an uphill battle," said VanGrinsven.

The crime scene was covered in snow making it virtually impossible for law enforcement to find evidence outside. Seven years later, Newnam was temporarily released from prison to lead officers to the murder weapons.

"That was critical to the case," said Erck.

The guns were found on the third floor of Newnam's mom house. The knife off the side of a road.

"Vern deserves a lot of credit. He never gave up on this case," said VanGrinsven.

A conviction for murderer Austin was secured after Newnam's help.

"A deal was made with Calvin, which the states attorneys, myself, the Abernathey's all signed off that we would ask for a sentence reduction for Calvin if he followed through with all his promises," said Erck.

He received 50 years.

"With the good time it did come down," said VanGrinsven.

The Department of Corrections says Newnam was released before noon Thursday and his plans were to live in Minot again.

Austin will serve two life sentences. His release date isn't until 2100.

The Abernathey's released a statement to Your News Leader saying they dreaded this day but are thankful some justice was served and will live with the decisions they made to allow him to gain his freedom again.

They also thank prosecutors and law enforcement.