Police have arrested five people in west-central Georgia in connection with the death of a 23-year-old black man in a case more than 30 years old.
On Friday, Spalding County, Ga., Sheriff Darrell Dix announced the charges, including against two people who worked in law enforcement and allegedly helped cover up the deed.
On Oct. 9, 1983, Timothy Coggins was found dead on a power line after suffering multiple forms of trauma. According to Dix, Coggins had been “murdered brutally” because he was black.
“There is no doubt in the minds of all investigators involved that the crime was racially motivated, and if the crime happened today it would be prosecuted as a hate crime,” said Dix, according to WSB-TV.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58, were charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and concealing a body. Lamar Bunn, a Milner, Ga., Police Department employee, and Sandra Bunn, 58, were charged with obstruction. Gregory Huffman, a detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with obstruction and violation of oath of office.
Huffman was fired from the sheriff’s office Friday morning.
A new witness came forward earlier this year, which led to a re-examination of the case. The sheriff said that recent media coverage helped witnesses—who said they had once been threatened—to come forward.
“Thanks to the assistance of both local and statewide new media coverage, previously unknown witnesses stepped forward, and when interviewed, many of the witnesses stated that they had been living with this information since Coggins’ death but had been afraid to come forward until now or had not spoken of it until now,” Dix said.
Coggins’ family thanked the current sheriff and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for taking another look at this case.
“We have always wanted justice, held out for justice and knew that we would have justice,” said Coggins’ niece Heather Coggins. “The only unfortunate part in this is that our grandparents, Timothy Coggins’ parents, are not able to see this today.”
She added, “Even on my grandmother’s deathbed, she knew that justice would one day be served. So we are eternally grateful, and we would like to say thank you.”
The sheriff said that the investigation is not over and that more arrests are expected.