Foley city officials say the early release program to relieve overcrowded prisons in Alabama could have cost one young lady her life after a horrifying incident in a city park last week.

The 21-year-old was jogging the Wilburne Antique Rose Tail in Heritage Park when 40-year-old Bernard Christopher Abney attacked her, investigators said. The woman was stabbed but fought for her life.

“Her strength and tenacity coupled with fighting back likely ended the attack and possibly saved her life,” Police Chief Thurston Bullock said in a statement.

After an extensive investigation and search, Abney was taken into custody in Mobile and charged with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree attempted rape.

Abney’s background includes a conviction and a 20-year sentence for second-degree rape. Prosecutors said Abney was initially charged with first-degree rape and kidnapping, along with other charges, after he and his brother led a 14-year-old child into a field at gunpoint and took turns raping her in 2003.

When the brothers were arrested, police discovered the victim alive in their vehicle. At the time, The Gadsen Times reported the brother should not have been out of jail at the time of the rape, but he had been released from the Mobile County Metro Jail in error. The brother, Shawn Latuji Abney, was supposed to be serving a two-year sentence for burglary but was released early.

Both brothers were convicted and sent to prison in the 2003 case but were both released as part of the early release program last year. Both were also arrested less than a month after their release for failing to register as sex offenders, but they were able to be released on bond.

According to court documents, Bernard Abney was released from jail on July 2, 2023, which was his date for earliest release for the rape conviction.

At the time of his arrest in connection to the Foley incident, Bernard Abney was still awaiting a February court appearance for the charge of violating the sex offender registration notification act.

State Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), who sponsored the bill that led to the mass release, said last year that those who were let out were set to be released within a year, which was the case for Abney. Hill said because the inmates would be better supervised with ankle monitors, he believed the public would be safer than if they were just let go and not given any supervision.

RELATED: See the state lawmakers who voted for the 2021 law that initiated the mass inmate release

Following the rape attempt last week, Foley Police and the Foley community were on edge as more information trickled out about the suspect. His criminal history troubled many, and Mayor Ralph Hellmich said the suspect’s actions proved he should not have been released from prison.

“I am, however, disappointed in our state system for allowing an early release of a person who has not been rehabilitated into society,” Hellmich said.

Bernard Abney is currently being held in the Mobile Metro Jail.

Shawn Abney, 50, is also back in jail. He posted bond for the violation of the sex offender registry charge even after attempting to elude police. Still, his bond was revoked after another violation. According to court documents, he was then charged with assault for allegedly attacking a person with a weapon he made in prison.

Shawn Abney is currently being held in the Escambia County Jail.

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