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Frederic Tokars Trial: 1997

Innocent Victim?, Mistrial Demand

Defendant: Frederic Tokars
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Bobby Lee Cook, James Berry, Jerry Froelich, Ed Moriarity
Chief Prosecutors: Tom Charron, Russ Parker
Judge: James G. Bodiford
Place: LaFayette, Georgia
Date of Trial: January 30-March 8, 1997
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: Issues of double jeopardy were aroused when this Atlanta lawyer, already serving four life terms on charges arising from the death of his wife, suddenly found himself facing execution as state prosecutors decided to pursue the death penalty.

When Sara Tokars and her two young sons returned to their suburban Atlanta home on November 29, 1992, they were jumped by a gunman who forced them back into their car and made them drive off. Less than a mile away the attacker shot 39-year-old Sara in the back of the head at point blank range with a sawed-off shotgun and fled. The two boys were unharmed.

Initial police theories of a bungled robbery soon gave way to suspicions about the victim's husband. Not only was Fredric Tokars, a former Atlanta prosecutor and prominent criminal defense lawyer, rumored to be in hock to organized crime, but also his marriage had been falling apart for some time. Sara's relatives claimed she had been threatening to expose Tokars' drugtrafficking connections as a prelude to filing for divorce and seeking custody of the children.

Investigators believed that Tokars had coerced a shady business associate, Eddie Lawrence, into finding a hit man to kill Sara. The trail then led to a crack addict named Curtis Rower, who was subsequently convicted of Sara's murder and sentenced to life. Lawrence plea-bargained his way to a 12 and one-half year federal prison term.

In April 1994 Tokars was also convicted on federal charges of racketeering and other crimes related to the death of his wife, and sentenced to four consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. But this wasn't enough for Cobb County district attorney Tom Charron, a zealous proponent of capital punishment. He wanted Tokars dead. And on January 30, 1997, he finally got to open the state's capital case against the crooked lawyer.

"This is a conspiracy between three people," said Charron. "It is a case of betrayal—betrayal of a marriage and a family and the oath of a husband… It is a case that the evidence will show you deals with ambition, blind ambition, of the defendant wanting to exercise his political power and control people."

Charron told how Tokars had insured his wife's life for $1.75 million, money that he needed to repay $700,000 in missing drug money he was supposed to have laundered for his criminal associates.

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