Less than half of potential jurors show up for ‘racially motivated' murder case

A murder trial is off to a rocky start in Spalding County after less than half of the summoned potential jurors showed up to court.

The trial is for Frank Gebhardt, one of two men accused of killing Timothy Coggins in 1983. Arrests were made in the case on October 17, 2017, 34 years after Coggins' body was found.

According to prosecutors, Gebhardt and his brother in law, William Moore Sr., bragged about killing the 23-year-old, even arguing over which of them deserved the most credit for his death.

According to investigators, the two men stabbed Coggins as many as 30 times then dragged his body behind a pickup truck.

The two men were initially to be tried together, but the defense was able to sever the charges.

[5 things to know about Spalding trial in murder of man dragged behind pickup truck]

In court Monday, Channel 2's Richard Elliot said the judge was angry that only 127 of 325 summoned potential jurors bothered to show up for jury selection.

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 woman.

Deputies believe the crime went unsolved for 34 years because Gebhardt and others intimidated possible witnesses into silence.

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The break came last fall when some of those witnesses finally came forward, claiming they heard Gebhardt bragging about the murder.

Deputies also arrested three others, including two law enforcement officials, and charged them with obstruction.

Gebhardt is the first to go on trial.

Judge Fletcher Sams told potential jurors they need people who can be unbiased when deciding this case.

"What we need are jurors that are fair to both sides, that are willing to listen to evidence in this case and to render a verdict in this case based on the evidence and upon any rumors or news coverage," Sams said.

The issue with jury selection could delay the start of the trial.

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