Those who fight for justice, that is to say the prosecutors, police officers, and judges, who work tirelessly on the side of right, are always trying to weigh the good and bad of our society to balance out the scales of justice.
Yet, what happens when a case comes along where the evidence is not clear? When the witnesses seem to have no recollection at all? What happens to justice then? Well sometimes, it has to wait a little while…
Begin with an End
Our story begins with a gruesome discovery. Police had uncovered a body, beaten to a pulp almost beyond repair on the side of a road in a town called, ironically, Sunny Side, Georgia. At first, they didn’t know who it was they had found, or what had happened to the poor soul and it wasn’t until decades later that they’d finally find out.
23-year-old Tim Coggins was everyone’s favorite guy. Gregarious and possessed of an ever-present, pearly white smile, Tim was the type of charismatic, playful, guy that you just liked to be around. Today, his family remembers him that way, because to remember him the way they last saw him, would be too painful…
Timothy Coggins, a man who was in the prime of his young life, was discovered dead, on a power line near Minter Road in the city of Sunny Side, Georgia on October 9, 1983. It was a killing that rocked the small town and one that plunged his family and the community into a world of doubt and mistrust for decades to come.
It was clear from his wounds that Tim Coggins had not come to be dead on that power line of his own accord. He had cuts on his neck, back, and stomach and what appeared to be stab wounds at places all over his body. Both lungs had been punctured as well. It was indeed a gruesome end to a bright young life…
Investigator Larry Campbell had come on to the scene sometime after the body was found and discovered what looked to be bloodstains and tire tracks in and around the field where Tim’s body had been discovered. It appeared as though whoever had killed him, and someone definitely had, they had finished him by dragging him behind a pickup truck through the woods.
A more detailed autopsy revealed even more startling and disheartening news. Whoever had stabbed him had worked him over pretty handily with the knife before attaching him to the car. Despite this though, it also appeared that Tim Coggins had done his best to defend himself. “He had defense wounds where he’d thrown up an arm,” explained Campbell. Now they just had to find out who had done it…
Crime solving in 1983 was not what it is today and despite the physical evidence of the crime, the investigation soon hit a pretty significant snag. You see, a number of potential witnesses, who had been contacted by the police because there was some proof they’d seen what happened, decided in questioning that they had no idea what had happened. In reality, they had actually been coerced and intimidated by the real killers into staying silent.
The witnesses’ testimonies were nothing but dead ends and for the next three decades, the question of “who killed Timothy Coggins” would remain unanswered. In March of 2017 however, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Spalding Sheriff’s department reopened the case. They had apparently received some new and pertinent information about what had happened that October evening…
As it happened, many of the witnesses interviewed had decided to come forward together to reveal what they’d collectively kept hidden all those years. They had been living with the guilt of what they’d known since the 80’s and had been afraid to come forward for fear of reprisals from the guilty parties. Nevertheless, they knew it was time to see justice done.
And so in November of 2017, 34 years after the untimely death of Timothy Coggins, the Spalding County Sheriff’s department went out to arrest the five people directly involved with the murder. The case was cold no more. Shockingly, or perhaps not that shockingly for the cynical among you, several of the criminals involved had once worked in law enforcement themselves…
Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58, were the first of the motley crew charged in Tim Coggins’ death. The two men were charged with murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and concealing a body. Gregory Huffman, 47, who worked as a detention officer for the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office was charged with obstruction and violation of oath of office.
The remaining two were also former law enforcement personnel. 32-year-old Lamar Bunn, a Milner Police Department employee, and 58-year-old Sandra Bunn, were charged with obstruction. As for why this motley crew of people murdered Timothy Coggins? That would only be found out once they were taken into custody…
Heather Coggins, Timothy’s niece, who was six at the time of his death, explained that most of her uncle’s friends were white: a fact which might not have sat well with some in the middle Georgia community during the early 1980s. Therefore, Sheriff Darrell Dix believes that the crime was absolutely racially motivated.
The suspects corroborated with the results of the investigation by coming clean and explaining that they were angry that Timothy had been socializing with a white woman. Sheriff Dix has gone on record as stating that if such a thing occurred today, it would be prosecuted as a hate crime. Of course, they also might not be the only suspects involved in the murder…
Difficult Days Ahead
Yet the revelation is bittersweet for the Coggins family. “It was very difficult hearing some of the things today, and seeing the defendants was very difficult as well,” explained Heather Coggins. “It’s the first time we’ve had a chance to see them up close and personal… It definitely doesn’t feel like something that we are going through as a family, but it is real.”
Holdout for Justice
For a family that has demanded and even expected justice from the beginning, they are now feeling somewhat vindicated. “We have always wanted justice, held out for justice, and knew that we would have justice,” says Heather Coggins. Yet, with the possibility of more suspects still looming, one must ask: will justice be brought to bear anytime soon?
Heather continued by saying, “We have endured grief for the past 34 years…our journey is coming to an end; their journey is just beginning.” It would seem that the Coggins have found closure in knowing who killed their beloved Tim and how they did it. As for the guilty parties, she’s right, their journey is just beginning.
Keeping it Hushed
The five criminals were held on bond but other than the reasoning behind the crime, most officials have not released any additional information on the suspects’ individual involvement in the crime. Those facts will no doubt come to light as the investigation continues and the five are brought to trial…
Officials said the investigation is not over, and more people could be arrested and charged with the murder. That, however, could be a way off. In the meantime, the authorities and the Coggins are more than happy to convict these five murderers for their complicity in the untimely death of Timothy Coggins.
Sending a Message
“We are sending a message that we want to make crystal clear,” explains Sheriff Dix. “If you are a criminal, murderer, drug dealer or gang member, you are no longer welcome or tolerated in Spalding County. We will do everything we can do to stop you, regardless of who you are, where you come from, and as was demonstrated today, regardless of time or distance.”