Defendant Frank Gebhardt during a break in jury selection at Spalding County Superior Court Monday, June 18, 2018. POOL PHOTO BY MAX PELTZ
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Defense, state blast 1983 investigation into murder of black Spalding man

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The original 1983 investigation into what may have been a racially motivated murder in Spalding County was remarkably inadequate, attorneys for the prosecution and defense agreed on Wednesday. 

For the state, the shortcomings of the original probe are a challenge to overcome. And the defense made it clear they plan to exploit them.

Opening arguments began at 9 a.m. in the first day of the murder trial of Franklin Gebhardt, one of two men charged in the murder of Timothy Coggins 35 years ago.

Prosecutor Marie Broder told jurors the initial investigation into Coggins’ murder  -- stabbed repeatedly and then chained and dragged behind a pickup truck -- was “shameful.” 

“They didn’t care about Timothy Coggins,” Broder said. 

Defense co-counsel Scott Johnston noted the lack of interest from Spalding deputies and GBI agents assigned to the case, saying they sought to close the case after just two months. 

“They had given up on it,” Johnston said. “Just another dead black man in 1983.” 

Gebhardt, 60, is charged with felony murder and other counts in the crime prosecutors say was driven by racial animus. Gebhardt allegedly bragged about his participation in the murder, though he never mentioned Coggins by name, according to Broder.

“He tells people he killed a N-word,” she said.

Broder asked jurors to seize the opportunity to “atone for the sins of the past.”  

Johnston said the state shouldn’t get a pass just because the case is old. He listed all of the evidence that had gone missing since 1983: Tire impressions. A bloody sweater. Hair samples taken from that sweater. A wooden club. An empty Jack Daniels bottle. 

“Where did it go?” Johnston asked. 

Although on Monday fewer than half of the 325 citizens called to jury duty showed up for the selection, it took only two days to seat the jury.  It is made of up eight women and four men; 10 are white and two are African-American.

The case captured international headlines last October when Gebhardt and brother-in-law Bill Moore Sr. were arrested and charged with Coggins’ murder. Moore’s trial is scheduled to take place in October. 

Coggins’ mutilated body was found near Gebhardt’s home in the city of Sunny Side, which had about 330 residents then and only 134 now.

Get familiar with the case:

 Will unsavory witnesses derail Spalding cold case murder trial? 

Potential jurors unfamiliar with notorious Spalding murder

Timothy Coggins, 23, was found dead in Sunny Side, Ga in Spalding County on Oct. 9, 1983. (Spalding County Sheriff’s Office)

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