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Fate of defendant in Spalding Co. racially-charged murder case in jury's hands

The murder trial of one of two men charged in the brutal 1983 slaying of Timothy Coggins could go to the jury as soon as Tuesday.
Timothy Coggins

SPALDING COUNTY, Ga. -- The fate of Frankie Gebhardt is now in the jury's hands. He is one of two men accused in the brutal beating 1983 death of Timothy Coggins.

Late Monday morning, defendant Frankie Gebhardt told the court he did not wish to testify in the trial in Griffin after the state rested their case.

Earlier in the morning, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Jared Coleman took the stand, corroborating the testimony of many earlier witnesses in the case.

Coleman also showed that some of the witnesses knew details of the case that had not previously been released by investigators.

After Coleman and one other witness testified Monday morning, the state rested its case. The defense requested a 20-minute recess in order for a witness to arrive at the Spalding County Courthouse in Griffin. Once that witness arrived, testimony resumed.

Frankie Gebhardt in court on Monday, June 18, 2018. 

Following lunch Monday afternoon, both the state and defense presented their closing arguments.

The state said witness testimony was enough to find Gebhardt guilty of murdering and then concealing the death of Coggins.

District Attorney Benjamin Coker told the jury over the past 34 years evidence was lost and he was sorry he couldn’t present crucial items to the jury but he said Gebhardt’s admissions over the years to witnesses helped preserve this case.

The defense said the state's case has too many holes and inconsistencies.

Gebhardt’s attorney argued the state hasn’t proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He said there is no proof of physical evidence that was presented to the jury, including a knife, that is actually from the murder. They were found amongst piles of trash in a well on Gebhardt’s property and his attorney said they could simply be trash.

"It is their burden to come in here and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt and he can’t help it," said Defense Attorney Larkin Lee. "He can’t help that they lost evidence, he can’t help that they conducted a bad investigation. He can’t help that. It isn’t his fault.”

His attorneys also said some witnesses have added to their stories over the years and since several of them are in prison, they could be hoping for deals on the sentences in exchange for helping the state.

Around 4 p.m. on Monday, the jury was tasked with getting a verdict on the following charges: malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, and concealing the death of another.

The jury deliberated for about an hour before deciding to break for the night. They will return to deliberations at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

RELATED | Cold case murder trial could be in jurors' hands by Tuesday

The brutally beaten body of Coggins was found near a set of power lines off of Minter Road in the Spalding County town of Sunny Side on Oct. 5, 1983. Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix said that Coggins was murdered after he had socialized with a white woman.

Timothy Coggins

Investigators said the murder remained unsolved for years. In late 2017, the GBI reopened its investigation after it received new leads in the case. After a new set of interviews, law enforcement officers were able to make five arrests, which included a detention officer from Spalding County and a police officer from the town of Milner, located to the south of Griffin.

The Spalding County Sheriff's Office charged Milner Police Officer Lamar Bunn, his mother Sandra Bunn and Spalding County Detention Officer Gregory Huffman with obstruction in the case.


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