A Wilkes County Grand Jury has recommended that investigators close the books on the September death of Blairsville hunter Jeffrey Sean Gebhardt on the grounds that his death was a suicide.
“Based on the opinion of State Medical Examiner Daniel Brown, MD,” the jury’s presentment said, “that all wounds, including the fatal ones, on Mr. Gebhardt were self-inflicted, and based upon the results of the investigation led by the GBI which found no evidence of any criminal agency involved in the death of Mr. Gebhardt, the Grand Jury authorizes the closure of this investigation. However, the Grand Jury understands that should any new information arise that might shed new light or insight on the present facts, this case can be re-opened.”
Since September 2012, the mysterious death of a hunter near Holliday Park in Wilkes County has made residents in the area uneasy. Now, after authorites have waited months for the last evidence to be examined, a Wilkes County Grand Jury convened Monday, August 5 to weigh the evidence in the death to determine the way he died.
The death of 35-year-old Gebhardt was first called a murder by the Georgia Bureau of Investivation after an autopsy, Wilkes County Coroner Blake Thompson said, but the crime lab ruled in November 2012 that Gebhardt had, in fact, committed suicide with a knife.
Because the crime lab had not yet completed tests on the knife used, however, the GBI office in Thomson was not willing to release that the death was a suicide, Wilkes Sheriff Mark Moore said. Since December, however, Moore has reassured Wilkes County residents that authorities were not looking for a murderer loose in Wilkes County.
Nor was the newly elected Wilkes County coroner willing to rule a suicide quickly. “I had to study it for weeks before I was willing to sign off on it in January as a suicide,” Thompson said. “I was Deputy Coroner when it happened, and had just taken over as Coroner in January, so I consulted with former Coroner Jane Echols before I finally was willing to sign the death certificate. And the case could be reopened if the last tests had come back with other evidence.”
Part of the delay was caused by the priorities of the overworked GBI Crime Lab. If the case had still been considered an open murder case, the evidence would have taken high priority. Since, however, the crime lab determined in November 2012 that the manner of death was suicide, the remaining tests on the knife took a back seat to more pressing cases, and the final disposition of the case dragged on.
The delay in releasing the manner of death has been hard on Gebhart’s family members, who hired a lawyer and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on the investigation, Sheriff Moore said. “But as long as the investigation was still open, we couldn’t respond to the request. It’ll good to put this to rest.”