SPALDING COUNTY, Ga. - Jury selection is underway in the trial for one of two men accused in a racially motivated murder from 1983 begins today in Spalding County.
Frank Gebhardt, 54, and William Moore Sr., 58 were charged in 2017 for the murder of Timothy Coggins.
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.
We'll have LIVE coverage of the jury selection on Channel 2 Action News at Noon.
Investigators found Coggins’ body on Oct. 9, 1983 in a grassy area near some power lines, on Minter Road in Spalding County.
“The murder of Timothy Coggins was due to Coggins socializing with a white female and that Coggins had been stabbed multiple times and drug behind a truck by Franklin Gebhardt and William Moore Sr.,” prosecutor Ben Coker said in a 2017 court hearing.
The cold case caught fire after new leads from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation led authorities to reopen the case in March 2017.
Jury selection began Monday morning at the courthouse in Griffin.
Here are 5 things to know about the trial:
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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