Prosecution of decades old murder featured on 20/20 special

Prosecution of decades old murder featured on 20/20 special

A murder that went unsolved for decades was finally resolved by a team dedicated to justice, and the journey was recently featured in a special 20/20 event on ABC. 

Originally airing on July 17, “In The Cold Dark Night” chronicled the investigation and prosecution of the cold case murder of Timothy Coggins. In October 1983, Coggins was stabbed, beaten, dragged behind a truck, and left to die in a field in the Sunnyside area of Griffin. At the time, law enforcement quickly dropped the investigation of the racially-motivated murder that saw Coggins lynched for fraternizing with a white woman and his family intimidated in the following days. 

Fast forward to 2017 and GBI agent Jared Coleman reviewed the file and followed up with an inmate with knowledge of the murder. Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix agreed to reopen the case and pursued it along with the GBI, Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, and Spalding County District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Marie G. Broder, then the Chief Assistant District Attorney, examines the case of the murder of Timothy Coggins with her team during the 20/20 special “In The Cold Dark Night.”
(Screencap via ABC)

District Attorney Marie G. Broder, then the Chief Assistant District Attorney under Ben Coker, is a prominent player in the special. With Coggins’s story untold for so long, Broder was honored to be a part of telling his tale for the world.

“It was amazing. Tim’s case was in the dark for so long for so many reasons,” said Broder. “The work that it took to get this case to a jury was incredible, but it was worth the sleepless nights to be part of a team that finally brought it into the light.”

Ineptitude and corruption in the initial investigation made the task that much more difficult. With minimal evidence remaining in the case file, they had to dig in even deeper. 

“We did face what seemed like, at times, impossible odds. The (Coggins) family is extremely inspiring and was a major driving force for me. I felt passionate about bringing closure to Tim and the family by presenting the case,” said Broder. “I knew that it was an uphill battle, but I felt it was one of the most important battles of my career, so far. The journey was certainly difficult, and it took a toll on all of us, but no one felt the emotion of the journey like the family. I just hope that they feel a sense of true closure, now.”

Franklin Gebhardt would be convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and concealing a body. His accomplice, Bill Moore, pled guilty to manslaughter.

Broder was pleased to watch the finished documentary.

“The special captured the horrendous nature of the crime, while remaining respectful to the family. That was the most important thing to me,” she said. “This was Tim’s story, and they told Tim’s story.”

“In the Cold Dark Night” can be viewed on abc.com or Hulu. 

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.