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Sheriff Darrell Dix said there is “no doubt” in the minds of investigators that the crime was racially motivated, and if it occurred today it would be prosecuted as a hate crime.
Officials did not release any additional information on the suspects’ involvement in the crime. Huffman was fired from the sheriff’s office Friday morning.
“(Coggins) was murdered brutally,” Dix said. “And we are going to make sure people answer to that crime.”
The GBI and Spalding sheriff's department reopened the case in March after receiving new information and met with Coggins' family in July. Many of the witnesses interviewed said they had been living with information since Coggin's death, but "had been afraid to come forward or had not spoken of it until now," officials said.
“We have always wanted justice, held out for justice, and knew that we would have justice,” Heather Coggins, the man’s niece, said at a news conference. “We have endured grief for the past 34 years … our journey is coming to an end; their journey is just beginning.”
The initial investigation in 1983 hit a snag when those suspected of being involved threatened and intimidated potential witnesses, Dix said.
Officials said the investigation is not over, and more people could be arrested and charged.
“We are sending a message that we want to make crystal clear. If you are a criminal, murderer, drug dealer or gang member, you are no longer welcome or tolerated in Spalding County,” Dix said. “We will do everything we can do to stop you, regardless of who you are, where you come from, and as was demonstrated today, regardless of time or distance.”