OUT OF THE DARKNESS AND INTO THE LIGHT
There are some stories that must be brought out of the darkness and into the light. Timothy Coggins’ murder is one of those stories. His family suffered for 34 years with silence surrounding his case. In 2017, the case was reopened, and on this past Friday night, Tim’s story was told to America.
In October of 1983, Timothy Coggins was brutally murdered. He was stabbed, beaten, dragged behind a truck, and left to die in a field beside Minter Road in the Sunnyside area of Griffin. Evidence showed that his lynching was motivated by the color of his skin, as later investigation would reveal that he was killed for associating with a white woman. After just a few weeks of investigation, law enforcement abandoned any effort to find Mr. Coggins’ killers. Meanwhile, the Coggins’ family received violent and anonymous threats.
In 2017, a GBI agent named Jared Coleman reviewed the thin file on Mr. Coggins’ murder and followed up on a lead where an inmate claimed to have knowledge about the murder. Agent Coleman met with Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix, who agreed to reopen the case. With renewed vigor and vision, the GBI, Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, and Spalding County District Attorney’s Office located more witnesses, and physical evidence in the bottom of a well This evidence tied Franklin Gebhardt and Bill Moore to the crime. Law enforcement went above and beyond to make up for the initial shameful investigation of Tim’s murder. After a hard-fought trial, a jury convicted Franklin Gebhardt of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and concealing a body. His accomplice, Bill Moore, later pled guilty to manslaughter. Any chance for direct appeal has passed.
There are cases that I will always remember. Then there is this case. This case changed me forever. I’ve never looked into the eyes of such evil in a courtroom. As I said in my opening statement, this crime scene screamed of the horrors that happened on that killing field. As now Superior Court Judge Coker said in his closing, the jury could atone for the sins of the past, they could right the wrongs. With their verdict of guilty, they did just that.
A film crew followed us throughout the trial. It was a rare opportunity to help bring Mr. Coggins’ story to life. This past Friday, a documentary about the case aired on ABC 20/20, and is now streaming on Hulu. I hope you will watch. Tim’s story deserves to live in the light, and now it does. I pray that the truly extraordinary Coggins’ family can continue to heal, and I pray that you all will be kind to each other.
Atlanta, GA - Today Governor Brian P. Kemp swore Marie Greene Broder into the office of the District Attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit. Governor Kemp announced Broder’s appointment in February. She has been serving as Acting District Attorney until today. Broder is the first female to serve as District Attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit.
"I am very honored to appoint you to be the next District Attorney. I have heard great things from your local community of the work you have done. I appreciate all you have done to serve as the District Attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit.” Governor Kemp said at the swearing-in ceremony.
Marie G. Broder earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia and law degree from University of Georgia College of Law. She has served as an assistant district attorney and chief assistant district attorney. Broder said of today’s ceremony, “this Circuit is my home and my hometown. I an honored and humbled to serve. My heartfelt thanks to Governor Kemp for this opportunity. I will work diligently to make sure that the Griffin Judicial Circuit remains a safe and wonderful place to live.”
WE WILL STAND
I imagine at some point this week you thought, if only for a moment, that the world was unraveling. We listen for the daily count of those that are infected and those that have died. Plans with our friends and family are being cancelled indefinitely. We worship behind computer screens. We aren’t supposed to hug our parents or our children.
Many of you have lost your job, or you show up each day to your job with the fear that the next day you will be your last with a paycheck. Many of you who have finally retired, after a life of hard work, and are watching your retirement accounts wither. Even the most optimistic among us must admit that we live under a shadow.
But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? In 1917, our young men sailed across the ocean to stop foreign imperialists. In 1929, the economy collapsed. In 1941, we entered a war to decide whether we would live free or serve fascists. Young men died in the fields of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam to answer the question of whether the great experiment of Democracy could survive the spread of Authoritarianism. Throughout all these wars, mothers and daughters nursed the wounded, worked in factories, and served their country at home. And we still stand.
In the 1990s we fought against a despot in the Middle East. From the crumbling of the Twin Towers until today, we’ve fought countless battles against terrorists who have sought to annihilate the very fabric of our Country with fear and radicalism. While our young men and women fought and died in the sand thousands of miles away, the economy faltered yet again in 2007 and we saw good, hard-working people without homes and without prospects. And we still stand.
Even in times we thought were peaceful, our loved ones stood ready by land, sea, and air to protect us from the next great threat. Here, at home, law enforcement officers have faced, and will continue to face, danger as they protect our communities from the evil at hand. And we still stand.
And in these past 100 years, we’ve fought polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid fever, HIV, H1N1, SARS, and now Corona Virus. Doctors, scientists, pharmacists, nurses, EMTs, firefighters, and every other manner of first responder have fought against these silent killers, conquering and controlling each one as best they could. And we still stand.
The history of this great country, and of this community, is one of immense challenge and remarkable perseverance. I have seen it in my own time on this Earth and in the calloused hands and wise eyes of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. We sacrifice, we overcome, and we stand.
I cannot tell you when this crisis will be over. But as I’ve reflected over these strange times, I came across a slogan the British used as they were ramping up for war in 1939. It gave me some comfort, which I hope it will give you. The government encouraged its citizens, who eventually suffered nightly bombing attacks by the Germans, to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” No one could ever excuse me of having a British “stiff upper lip,” I am from Thomaston after all, so the best I can do is encourage you to “Settle Down and Don’t Quit.” We are all in this together. We will prevail, and we will stand.
So how do we Settle Down and Don’t Quit? For my small part, the offices of the District Attorney will continue to protect you by prosecuting crimes and pushing the wheel of justice forward as we move past these disruptions. Our office will be open, and this time of uncertainty will not be an opportunity for evildoers to take advantage of this difficult situation.
As for the rest, be kind to those around you. Get takeout from your favorite restaurant. Check on that senior citizen who is staying at home. Tell your friend who works in health care how much their hard work means to you and your family. Be a good neighbor. You know what to do. Stay healthy, this too shall pass, and we, as Americans, will stand.
Today, Cameron Jones pled guilty to Malice Murder and Aggravated Assault in front of the Honorable W. Fletcher Sams. The defendant was sentenced to serve life in prison for malice murder, followed by 20 years for the aggravated assault. Chief Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder (recently appointed to succeed Ben Coker as District Attorney) and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin prepared the case for trial. The trial was scheduled to begin on March 9th. The defendant entered a guilty plea this morning on what was scheduled to be a motions day. The family and law enforcement were in agreement with the guilty plea.
Jones pled guilty to the murder of Roderick Crawford, a Lamar County resident. Kiera Williams, a co-defendant, pled guilty to Malice Murder on a previous court date and was sentenced to life in prison followed by 20 years. Both Jones and Williams will now face charges in Clayton County. Williams and Jones shot and killed Crawford at an abandoned house in Upson County.
"On December 29th of 2018, Roderick Crawford, a beloved father, husband, brother, cousin, and son, went missing from Lamar County." Broder said. "Agencies immediately began to work together to find him and happened upon a modern day Bonnie and Clyde story." Broder continued, "our office worked with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Lamar County Sheriff's Office, the Upson County Sheriff's Office, Thomaston Police Department, Clayton County District Attorney's Office, Clayton County Sheriff's Office, Clayton County Police Department, Forest Park Police Department, and the Towaliga District Attorney's Office to apprehend Cameron Jones and Kiera Williams who were responsible for a multi-county crime spree involving five different men. These crimes would have never been solved but for the diligent efforts of the incredible men and women in these agencies. They put in countless hours to apprehend these dangerous criminals and bring them to justice. Let this plea and sentence be a message to those that seek to do unspeakable harm to upstanding people like Roderick Crawford. Upson County and the Griffin Judicial Circuit will not tolerate crime such as this in our community."
On October 30, 2019, a Spalding County jury found Armed Cortez Clemmons guilty of aggravated child molestation, two counts of child molestation, sodomy, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, enticing a child for indecent purposes, pimping for persons under 18, and computer pornography. The Honorable Scott L. Ballard sentenced the defendant to a total of Life plus 30 years in prison.
District Attorney Benjamin D. Coker and Assistant District Attorney Morgan Kendrick tried the first sex trafficking case ever successfully prosecuted in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. The victim took the stand and testified at trial. The defendant was convicted of placing advertisements for the victim, who was 14 years old at the time, and transporting her to different locations to engage in sexual acts with multiple men. The case was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
ADA Kendrick said, “I hope today’s verdict sends a strong message to our community that this behavior will not be tolerated in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. Children deserve to be protected, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure all children are safe from predators. I’m incredibly thankful for the hard work and dedication of our team, especially our victim advocate Denise Miller, investigator John Wright, legal assistant Jessica Smith, and GBI Special Agent Trisha Cannon. I would also like to thank District Attorney Coker for his steadfast courage in prosecuting these cases and protecting the children of our Circuit.”
Beginning on September 9, 2019, Assistant District Attorney Kate Lenhard, Assistant District Attorney Donna GoPaul, and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin tried the State of Georgia vs. Antorio Parker. The defendant was charged with multiple counts of Child Molestation, Aggravated Sexual Battery, and Incest for multiple sexual acts he committed against his step-daughter over the course of a year. The jury convicted the defendant on September 16, 2019. On October 21, 2019, Chief Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards sentenced the defendant to Life in prison followed by 40 years to serve in prison.
"Because of the courage of a young girl, a predator will no longer be able to prey on other children," said Assistant District Attorney Kate Lenhard. "I am extremely grateful for the service of our Spalding County jurors in this case. Justice was served."
Assistant District Attorney Dan Hiatt prepared to try the case of the State of Georgia vs. Andrew Magnuson this week in front of the Honorable Christopher Edwards. This morning, the defendant entered a guilty plea to two counts of Enticing a Child and one count of Attempted Kidnapping. The defendant was sentenced to 50 years with the first 30 years to be served in prison followed by 20 years on probation. The case was back in court after the defendant was granted Habeas Corpus relief.
On October 29, 2000, the defendant approached an 8 year old and a 9 year old boy in Three Ponds Park in Peachtree City. He gave them a ride on his golf cart, discussed inappropriate sexual subjects, urged them to come over to his house, and exchanged information with one of the victim children. On October 30, 2000, now Assistant Chief Stanley Pye and other officers were performing surveillance in the vicinity of Oak Grove Elementary school when they encountered the defendant on his golf cart. The defendant had a knife, rope, and duct tape. He later admitted in an interview that he was planning to abduct a child forcibly if necessary. He also admitted to the incident the day before with the two boys.
In 2002, the defendant entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to confinement. During the course of his prison sentence, the defendant applied for Habeas Corpus relief, meaning that he believed he was illegally detained. In 2015, a court granted his petition for Habeas Corpus, and the case was placed back on a trial calendar.
Assistant District Attorney Hiatt diligently prepared this case for trial despite the difficulty in trying a 19 year old case. District Attorney Coker said of the resolution, “[t]his sentence is another reflection of my office’s commitment to the prosecution of those who prey upon children. Even in the face of adversity, my office, law enforcement, and the victims persevered, and justice prevailed in the courtroom today.”
On Monday, August 19, 2019, Rodriguez Kemp entered a guilty plea to the following felony offenses: Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, Use of a Sawed-off Shotgun during the Commission of a Crime and Fleeing and Attempting to Elude. For these crimes, Chief Judge Christopher C. Edwards sentenced the defendant to 35 years with the first 21 years to be served in prison without parole. These crimes occurred on December 21, 2018 when Kemp led officers on a dangerous multi-county, high-speed, car chase on Georgia Highway 85, which ended in Fayette County. Kemp fired a sawed-off shotgun at Fayette County Sheriff’s Lieutenant, Cody Benslay when the chase concluded. District Attorney Ben Coker, represented the State, Lt. Benslay and other members of law enforcement were present in court for the plea.
District Attorney Coker said of the plea, “[f]irst and foremost, I am very thankful that no members of law enforcement were seriously injured as the result of Rodriguez Kemp’s actions on December 21, 2018. Law enforcement officers suit up for duty every day to protect us, and this case is an example of the very real danger they face. I cannot thank them enough for what they do. Let this sentence send a message to those who assault a law enforcement officer in my circuit. Violence against law enforcement will not be tolerated, and the punishment for said acts will be severe.”
This morning, a Spalding County jury convicted Versaches Evans of Aggravated Battery for fracturing his infant daughter's ribs. His daughter was 12 weeks old when the injuries were discovered. He was charged with additional counts; however, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on those counts. On the Aggravated Battery, Senior Judge Matthew Simmons sentenced the defendant to 20 years with the first 12 years to be served in prison. Takiah Wilson, the biological mother was also charged with the crimes. The jury acquitted Wilson. Chief Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin tried the case for the State. The case was presented over 3 days and included testimony from law enforcement and medical doctors from local hospitals and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
District Attorney Ben Coker said, "child abuse cases are exceptionally difficult to prosecute and difficult for juries to consider. I respect the jury's decision in this case. My heartfelt thanks goes out to law enforcement, Dr. Messner from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and my staff, especially Marie and Ashton, for their fight for this helpless victim."