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34 Years Later, Police Arrest Five People In Connection to ‘Racially Motivated’ Murder of Black Man

Timothy Coggins

The investigation into Timothy Coggins’ death was re-opened in July. (Image courtesy of teh Spalding County Sheriff’s Office)

Thirty-four years after his body was found abandoned on a power line, Georgia authorities believe they’ve finally solved the murder of 23-year-old Timothy Coggins.

A decades-old investigation into Coggins’ death resulted in the arrests of five people Friday, Oct. 14, including two law enforcement officers accused of hindering the investigation, local station 11ALive reported. Authorities now believe the crime was racially-motivated.

Coggins’ body was discovered on Oct. 9, 1983, in a grassy area near power lines in the city of Sunnyside, Ga. In a statement, the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office said the young man had been “brutally murdered” and showed visible signs of trauma on his body.

“This was not meant to kill — this was meant to send a message,” Spalding County Sheriff Darrel Dix said during a news conference. “This was brutal.”

Investigators questioned suspects and witnesses at the time, and spoke with people who knew Coggins, but the case ultimately went cold. This past March, however, new evidence came to light that prompted police to reexamine the case, Dix said. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation officially reopened the case in July.

“We started getting phone calls from people that remembered it happening,” the sheriff said. “From people that were not even living in Georgia anymore were calling, saying, ‘I’ve held this in for the last 34 years and I’ve been afraid to say anything about it — but now I feel like I need to talk about it.’ And they did.”

Timothy Coggins

Clockwise from left to right; Gregory Huffman, Bill Moore Sr., Frankie Gebhardt, Sandra Bunn, and Lamar Bunn. (Collage by NBC News/Images courtesy of Spalding County Sheriff’s Office)

Thanks to the newly gathered evidence, local authorities were able to arrest five people Friday in connection with Coggins’ killing. Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore, Sr., 58, were arrested on numerous charges including murder, aggravated assault and concealing the death of another, according to 11Alive. Both were denied bond at a hearing Saturday morning.

Lamar Bunn, an officer with the Milner Police Department, and his mother, Sandra Bunn, were also arrested and charged with obstruction. Meanwhile, Gregory Huffman, a detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, was also charged with obstruction and violating his oath of office. Huffman was terminated from his job after his arrest and was being held on $35,000 for both charges.

At the news conference, Dix said there was no doubt in investigators’ minds that Coggins’ murder was racially motivated, adding that if it the crime were committed today, it would be prosecuted as a hate crime. All of the suspects are white.

“The goal in this whole thing is to get justice for Timothy Coggins and to get justice for the Coggins family,” Dix said.

Several members of the slain man’s family were present at Friday’s news conference when the arrests were announced. The family thanked the sheriff’s office and GBI for re-opening the case into their loved one’s death.

“We know that there’s been tireless nights and we know that you guys have put in so many hours making sure that these people were brought to justice …’ ” said Coggins’ niece, Heather Coggins, according to WSB-TV. “The only unfortunate part in this is that our grandparents, Timothy Coggins’ parents, are not able to see this today.”

Dix said there could be more arrests as authorities continue to investigate.

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