June 26, 2018
Spalding County Courthouse
“Hopefully sir, you have stabbed your last victim. Bailiffs, secure the defendant and remove him from the courthouse.” Those were the final words Judge Fletcher Sams spoke before ending the trial and adjourning the court. After nearly thirty-five years to bring this case to trial, the jury needed only seven hours to find the defendant, Franklin George Gebhardt, guilty of the brutal and racially motivated murder of Timothy Coggins in 1983. He was murdered for befriending and dating a white woman. For everyone involved, there was high anxiety accompanied by a whirlwind of emotions.
The defendant sat motionless and stared ahead blankly as his fate was sealed with a guilty verdict attached to each count. Convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault and concealing the death of another. He was sentenced to life in prison plus thirty years. The sentence would be served consecutively, which would probably be for the rest of his natural life. In early October of 1983, Mr. Coggins’s mangled, tortured, and nearly unrecognizable body was found in an open field near some power lines in Griffin. With more than thirty stab wounds to his body, he was then chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged behind it.
When the sheriff’s department and the GBI received a tip about some key evidence last year, Franklin Gebhardt and William Moore Sr. were arrested and charged with murder. Based on physical evidence retrieved from Gebhardt’s property, and the testimony of some colorful witnesses, the guilty verdict was reached.
For the Coggins family, this was a day that they’d waited nearly thirty-five years to see. Overcome with emotion as she read the family’s impact statement, Heather Coggins thanked Judge Sams, the prosecution team of Benjamin Coker and Marie Broder, the GBI, Sheriff Darrell Dix and his department, as well as the jury. “We’re so elated and grateful to God that we can finally say to the younger generations in our family that justice has finally been served for Tim. His murder did not go unpunished. He was a wonderful person--a son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. When the arrests were made, we counted it a victory that everyone would soon know what we’ve always known. On their deathbeds, both my grandmother and grandfather hoped that this day would come. Now, we can visit Uncle Tim’s grave, along with my grandparent's graves (Viola and Robert Dorsey), and tell them that justice has been finally served.”
Downstairs and outside of the courthouse, the prosecution team stated they’d spend these next few weeks preparing their case for the second defendant, William Moore Sr. His trial is set to begin in August.
This particular case has personal significance to me. My wife, Shawanda Peavy-Butts is the second cousin of Timothy Coggins and I’ve been a part of this family for more than twenty-eight years.