In Franklin Gebhardt's eyes, Timothy Coggins's crime was simple: Coggins was a black man who was dating a white woman.
And so one night in the fall of 1983, Gebhardt and his brother-in-law, William Moore, lured Coggins into a car parked across the street from a dance club frequented by African Americans in Sunnyside, Georgia - the first step in carrying out the 23-year-old's killing.
The pair stabbed Coggins more than 30 times, leaving a patchwork of bloody Xes on the young man's skin, prosecutors said, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Then, the two white men chained Coggins to the back of a pickup truck, took him to a desolate part of town, and dragged him across the asphalt until he stopped moving.
Coggins's corpse was so badly damaged that investigators at first had difficulty identifying him.
"We don't know whether this person was local or a transient," an investigator told the local paper, according to clipping later tweeted by a CNN reporter. "About all that's known for certain is that the victim died a violent death."
It was, Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix later told the Journal Constitution, a slaying so heinous that it "appeared to be sending a message."
Gebhardt and Moore boasted to their buddies that the killing of a black man in cold blood was a public service.
"They were proud of what they had done," Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Jared Coleman would eventually tell a jury, according to the Journal Constitution. "They felt like they were protecting the white race from black people."
Authorities combed through missing persons reports before identifying Coggins a day after his bloody remains were found in a grassy ditch.
But no witnesses came forward, police exhausted their leads, and the case went cold - even though one of Coggins's killers openly bragged about the time he killed a black man with impunity.
"If you keep on you're going to wind up like that [n-word] in the ditch," Gebhardt once told a girlfriend, the GBI's Coleman told jurors, according to the Journal Constitution.
Threats like that, investigators said, contributed to a cone of silence that kept the case cold for years.
"Gebhardt has said both in jail calls and in interviews that if you give me a name of witnesses they won't testify," prosecutor Marie Broder said.
Gebhardt and his brother-in-law were laborers at a pulp mill, but had reputations as toughs with nasty, racist streaks - and rap sheets: Gebhardt had been charged with aggravated assault several times and had spent time in a Georgia penitentiary.
They also had friends in key places.
Two of them - Gregory Huffman and Lamar Bunn - were law enforcement officers when Gebhardt and Moore were eventually arrested, CNN reported. Huffman is accused of revealing the identity of a confidential informant who was being used against Gebhardt, the Associated Press reported. Bunn previously worked for the Spalding County Sheriff's Office and was employed as an officer at another department when Gebhardt was arrested.
As WSB Radio reported, half the evidence in the Coggins investigation disappeared over the years.
And as those years passed, there were no breaks in the case.
To Coggins's family, it was a three-decade slap in the face: The feeling that the whole community cared nothing for his gruesome death.
The break finally came a year ago, when authorities said they received new information that prompted a deeper look into the case.
Investigators were able to find people to whom Gebhardt had bragged in prison. Defense attorneys countered that those key witnesses had their own checkered pasts, and that they were cooperating solely because prosecutors had struck deals for reduced sentences.
But in court testimony, they relayed things that only the true killer would know, the Journal Constitution reported.
In the end, it took the jury just six hours to return the guilty verdict the family had wanted for decades.
Gebhardt was convicted of committing a murder that was driven by racial hatred.
"We've waited for 34 years to even be here today," Coggins' niece, Heather Coggins, said to NBC News. "We never thought that we would be here. We thought Tim had been forgotten.
" . . . And now we don't have to tell our kids, or our grandkids anymore that 'no one cared for your uncle Tim.' Now we have someone who's guilty, and who will spend the rest of their life in prison."
Moore is awaiting trial.