Innocent Black people are seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people, which means Blacks are presumed guilty more often than whites.
So, in 1983, when Frankie Gebhardt, a white Georgia man, murdered 23-year-old Timothy Coggins, a Black man, racism within the criminal justice system resulted in the investigation being terminated prematurely. But almost 40 years later, Coggins’ family will see Gebhardt imprisoned.
A jury convicted Gebhardt of the crime on Tuesday. He was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault and concealing the death of another. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Gebhardt was the first of two suspects on trial. He and co-defendant Bill Moore Sr. were charged with the murder of Coggins because they were upset that he was dating a white woman. The crime was motivated by racial hatred, prosecutors said.
Coggins was stabbed dozens of times and dragged behind a vehicle in Sunny Side, about an hour south of Atlanta. His body was left in a grassy area near power lines, reports Law & Crime.
The prosecution’s case was built largely on testimony from witnesses who testified Gebhardt and Moore bragged to community members about killing a Black man, who they only referred to by the N-word.
The physical evidence collected at the crime scene was lost years ago. District Attorney Ben Coker said that he knew going into trial that evidence was missing, according to NBC News.
“We took that head on,” Coker told reporters after the verdict. “We owned it, and I think the outcome of the case speaks volumes about not only this community but law enforcement in this community, and the fact that times are changing, and times can change.”
Prosecutors blasted authorities in Spalding County, Ga., for conducting a messy, racist investigation of the Coggins death back in 1983.
When the guilty verdict was read, the Coggins family “emotionally cried,” according to Fox 5 Atlanta.
“We thought we’d never be here today,” Coggins’ oldest niece, Heather, said. “My grandparents went to their grave with this murder being unsolved.
“It wasn’t just a murder. It was a brutal, heinous killing. Now we don’t have to tell our kids or our grandkids anymore that no one cared for your Uncle Tim. We have someone who is guilty and will spend the rest of their life in prison to serve time for this murder that he committed.”