A Georgia man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the brutal, racist murder of a black man in 1983 that stumped investigators for decades.
Frank Gephardt, 59, was convicted Tuesday of murdering Timothy Coggins and leaving his mutilated body on the side of a road in Spalding County, Georgia. A judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 30 years, according to the New York Times.
Laying down the ruling, Spalding County Superior Court Judge W. Fletcher Sams said he hoped the sentence would prevent Gebhardt from ever inflicting the same pain again, the Times reported.
“Hopefully, sir, you have stabbed your last victim,” Sams said, according to the Times.
Gebhardt, along with his co-conspirator Charles Moore, were arrested last October for the 1983 murder of Coggins, an act of brutality that police described as a racially motivated, “heinous” crime that today would have been prosecuted as a hate crime, according to a statement Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix made at the time of the arrests.
Also arrested in October were Sandra Bunn and Lamar Bunn, who were both charged with obstruction, and Gregory Huffman, 47, a former detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office who was charged with obstruction and violating his oath of office for allegedly tipping Gebhardt off to the investigation, according to the Times. Sandra Bunn is accused of feeding Gebhardt information about how to avoid DNA testing, while Lamar Bunn, a former employee of the Milner county Sheriff’s Office, allegedly fed information to Gebhardt, the Times reported.
The three have been indicted by a grand jury and are awaiting trial, and Moore is scheduled to go to trial later this year, according to WSB-TV Atlanta.
Coggins was found dead on Oct. 9, 1983. He was slain in what prosecutors said at trial was revenge for what Moore and Gebhardt believed to be a relationship between Coggins and Gebhardt’s white girlfriend, the Times reported.
Prosecutors told the jury that Moore and Gebhardt had dragged Coggins behind their truck, stabbed him more than 30 times, and carved his body with “X” marks, according to the Times.
The case lay dormant until last year, in part because of a sloppy investigation at the time of the murder, detectives reported at trial, according to WSB-TV Atlanta.
But in March of last year, new witnesses came forward to tell investigators that they had seen Coggins getting into a car with Gebhardt and Moore outside a nightclub on the night of Oct. 7, 1983, and another witness told police they had seen the two white men arguing with Coggins the next morning in northern Spalding County, according to the Times.
Speaking with the Times, Coggins’ niece, Heather Coggins, 41, said she was unsure of how the jury would rule, even up until the guilty verdicts were read.
“Yes we’re angry, yes we’re sad,” she said. “We were even scared 34 years ago.”.
“Today,” she told the Times, “we know what happened. Of course, it doesn’t make us sleep better at night, but now we know what happened.”
[Photo: Spalding County Sheriff's Office]