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.