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Headstone placed 34 years after murder

More than 30 years after he was brutally murdered, a headstone was recently placed at the Pike County burial site of Timothy Wayne Coggins. Family and friends held a memorial service at Fuller’s Chapel United Methodist Church and then unveiled the new headstone in Zebulon Saturday, Dec. 30. ’This has been a very dark cloud on our family. But today we can see the sun will shine again,’ said Timothy’s brother Tyrone Coggins during a service held 34 years after his Oct. 9, 1983 death. Timothy’s niece Heather Coggins said at the time of his death, they had no idea who killed him or if they would come back to vandalize his grave so they held a hurried, fearful funeral and didn’t mark his grave. In March 2017, Spalding County sheriff Darrel Dix said new evidence in the case came to light, prompting investigators to re-examine the case, re-interviewing original witnesses. In July, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation officially reopened the case. ’We started getting phone calls from people that remembered it happening. 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,’ said sheriff Dix. ‘The goal in this whole thing is to get justice for Timothy Coggins and to get justice for the Coggins family.’ Timothy Coggins’ body was found by hunters off Manley Road near high-tension power lines not far from a highway in the Sunny Side community north of Griffin. A breakthrough in the cold case came in October 2017 when law enforcement announced the arrests of Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58, both of Spalding County. They were both charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and concealing a death. Witnesses in the case said they killed Coggins because he had been dancing with a white woman at a club on the night of Oct. 7, 1983. Warrants for their arrest accused them of stabbing and slicing Coggins to death, giving him ‘˜seriously disfiguring’ wounds.  A prosecutor said during a hearing in November 2017 that Coggins was also dragged through the woods behind a pickup truck. Three other arrests were made, including Lamar Bunn, an officer with the Milner Police Department, and his mother, Sandra Bunn, 58, who were both charged with obstruction. Gregory Huffman, a detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with violation of oath of office and obstruction. Dix said Huffman was fired from his job upon his arrest. ’I really can’t get into a lot detail about what they did,’ said sheriff Dix. ‘But what they did was enough that it hindered the investigation.’ Timothy’s niece Heather said the family suspected his death was somehow linked to racism and after the arrests in 2017 were announced, family members offered funds to purchase his headstone. While many of those who knew him first hand have passed away, younger generations were in attendance with many wearing shirts with his photo and ‘˜At Last ‘¦ Resting in Peace’ on them. Many wore purple – Timothy’s favorite color – and the memorial service included gospel music performed by a family choir and an interpretive dance by young children. ’Our family is amazing and we are confident he would have been proud of us,’ said Jennifer Stevenson, 35, who was a baby when her cousin was killed. ‘As his legacy, we feel as though we were robbed.’ Although they heard family tell stories of how he walked home younger relatives to ensure their safety and had a charming smile and smooth dance moves, many in attendance never got to experience his personality first hand. ’He always wanted to make sure everyone got home safely,’ said Tyrone Coggins. ‘This is confirmation to the family that 34 years later, Tim made it home.’ Contributed to by Don Schanche Jr. / Associated Press

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