After 35 years, one of two men accused of dragging a young black man behind his truck is finally going to trial. Jury selection begins Monday in Spalding County for 60-year-old Frank Gebhardt, charged with felony murder in the death of Timothy Coggins, who was just 23 years old at the time.
IN-DEPTH: How police say a cold case was solved
1. Racial animus seen as factor in Coggins’ death.
Witnesses have shared competing theories about motive, but prosecutors have remained resolute that the victim’s skin color hastened his death. Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ben Coker said Coggins, an African-American, was killed because he was socializing with a white female. Coggins was last seen on Oct. 7, 1983, leaving a bar with a white woman. He got into a car with three men, one of whom is believed to be Gebhardt.
2. The killing was particularly brutal.
Coggins sustained multiple cuts to his neck, back and stomach before his body was dragged behind a pickup truck. It was “overkill,” according to Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix, tailored to send a clear message.
3. Coggins’ murder — and the ensuing cover-up — was allegedly carried out by one family and an unrelated accomplice.
Gebhardt, 60, is charged with felony murder along with William Moore, his brother-in-law. Gebhardt’s sister, Sandra Bunn, and nephew, Lamar Bunn, were charged with trying to help him avoid prosecution. A fifth suspect, Gregory Huffman, formerly a detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with obstruction and violating his of oath of office. Gebhardt is the first to stand trial; Moore initially was to be tried with him but the defense successfully petitioned a judge to sever the charges.
4. Gebhardt and Moore were always suspected by police.
The two men escaped prosecution for more than three decades due to inconsistent accounts from witnesses and a lack of physical evidence. The knife used to stab Coggins and the chain used to drag his body behind the pickup truck were never recovered.
5. A key witness.
A crucial tip from a witness last March “filled in the gaps” and revived the case, Dix told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A flood of tips began pouring in after that. Over the next few months, investigators interviewed more than 60 people about Coggins’ death. The five suspects connected to Coggins’ death and cover-up were arrested last October.
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