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This undated photo file provided by Heather Coggins shows her uncle Timothy Coggins. Frank Gebhardt, a white Georgia man, has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison in what prosecutors have said was the racially motivated slaying of Timothy Coggins in 1983. (Photo: Courtesy of Heather Coggins via AP, File)

One night in October 1983, two white men waited outside a local dance club near Sunny Side, Georgia for a black man, Timothy Coggins. Coggins was young, exuberant, loved to dance—and was known to date white women. When Coggins emerged, according to court testimony, they lured him into their parked car, and stabbed him more than 30 times, before tying him to the back of a pick-up truck with a logging chain and dragging him behind them on the asphalt until he stopped moving. Coggins’ body was dumped and the culprits disappeared into the night.

“He pretty much was killed for socializing with a white woman,” says Heather Coggins, his niece and the family’s spokesperson.

It would be 34 years before one of those men, Franklin Gebhardt, was convicted for Coggins’ murder and sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 20 years, finally bringing the family some justice. After more than three decades without even a suspect, says Heather Coggins, they are still adjusting to the events of the past weeks and taking time to be together as a family. “It’s so surreal,” she says. “We’re overwhelmed with joy.”

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