June 26, 2018 Griffin - Franklin Gebhardt sits at the defense table waiting for a verdict during the murder trial of Franklin Gebhardt in front of Spalding County Superior Court Judge W. Fletcher Sams at the Spalding County Courthouse on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The jury began their first full day of deliberations today. Franklin Gebhardt was charged with killing 23-year-old Timothy Coggins, stabbing him 30 times and dragging his body behind a pickup truck. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Judge in cold case murder: ‘Hopefully, sir, you have stabbed your last victim’

A Spalding County man was convicted of killing a young black man in a gruesome 1983 murder alleged to have been motivated by racial hatred. 

A jury deliberated for about six hours before returning the verdict against Franklin Gebhardt. The 60-year-old defendant — labeled a racist by his own lawyer — will spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

Judge Fletcher Sams sentenced him to life in prison plus 20 years immediately after the decision was announced.

“Hopefully, sir, you have stabbed your last victim,” Sams said.

Prosecutors say Gebhardt and his brother-in-law stabbed 23-year-old Timothy Coggins some 30 times then dragged his body behind a pickup truck, linked by a chain. 

Timothy Coggins
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coggins’ mutilated corpse was found along a rural road in the small Georgia community of Sunny Side, about an hour south of Atlanta. 

Gebhardt showed no reaction as the decision was read. Members of Coggins’ family, who have been in the courtroom every day of the trial, sobbed. They hugged each other and prosecutor Marie Broder.

Security was heavy in the courtroom as the decision was announced.

» RELATED: With guilty verdict in decades-old murder, Georgia county turns a page

Gebhardt’s lawyer said the state lacked physical evidence linking him to the crime and were reliant on testimony from opportunistic witnesses — six of whom are currently incarcerated — who only came forward in hopes of reducing their sentences. 

But prosecutors said many of those witnesses provided information, attributed to Gebhardt, that only the killer would know. 

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