The man behind one of Cobb County’s most memorable murders, former east Cobb resident and Atlanta attorney Fred Tokars, has died in federal prison, his lawyer confirmed to the MDJ.
In 1992, Tokars had his 39-year-old wife, Sara Tokars, murdered in front of their two young sons, according to prosecutors, who secured a life sentence without parole upon his conviction. The death penalty was rejected by a 10-2 jury vote, with two jurors opposed.
Tokars’ lawyer, Atlanta defense attorney Jerry Froelich, told the MDJ Tokars died at age 67 in a federal prison in Pennsylvania either Friday night or Saturday morning last week.
Froelich said he was notified by one of Tokars’ brothers, who was informed by prison staff.
“He was not in good shape,” Froelich said Thursday. “He had not walked in 10 years. He had several diseases, including a form of MS (multiple sclerosis). He was not able to urinate without a catheter. He had been beaten up in prison for cooperating with the government.”
Froelich wouldn’t say whether he believed Tokars was guilty of ordering his wife’s murder, something that Tokars never admitted.
“I don’t make those judgments,” Froelich said. “My client denied it, and he wanted trials, and I got him trials.”
Froelich said Tokars was trying to get a reduced sentence by testifying against other suspects in various federal criminal trials, which led to six murders being solved.
“I think it was an injustice not to give him a reduction after what he did,” Froelich said. “If Tokars had gotten that kind of sentence, I could have gotten him out. It was just pure vindictiveness on the part of the federal government.”
Tom Charron, who led Tokars’ murder prosecution as the Cobb County district attorney at the time, sought the death penalty and told the MDJ justice has finally come in the case.
“I knew he was still in federal custody and I knew that he had been involved in being a jailhouse snitch for the feds for some murders,” Charron said Thursday. “I knew he was probably in some type of protective custody in prison.”
Charron, now the Cobb Superior Court administrator, said it is sadly ironic that Tokars’ youngest son, Mike, died in California of a blood clot around a month ago.
“That affected me more than anything else,” he said, explaining how close he became to the Tokars boys during the murder case.
Mike and his older brother Rick were aged 4 and 6 when their mother was shot in the back of the head in front of them, Charron said.
As an attorney in Fulton County, Tokars was helping criminals launder money and was worried his wife was going to tell authorities, Charron said, which proved a likely motive for murder.
“He had a business partner get a hitman to kill her,” Charron said. “What really shocked the citizens out here is the murder happened in east Cobb in a neighborhood where it was just unheard of that you would be seeing violent crimes committed. I think it frightened everybody that here was a really nice lady, a stay-at-home mom with her children, murdered in her own vehicle by an intruder who met her as she drove into her garage.”
The murderOn Nov. 29, 1992, Sara Tokars and her sons had just returned to their Kings Cove subdivision home in east Cobb after spending Thanksgiving with family in Florida.
A man ordered Tokars and her sons back into their vehicle and told Tokars to drive, but when she refused to comply he shot her in the back of the head with a sawed off shotgun, Charron said.
“It’s something that really captivated the interest of the metro area for years,” Charron said, adding the case is one of the most memorable in his 21-plus years as Cobb DA. “We finally, I think, got justice.”
Police arrested Eddie Charles Lawrence, then 28, of Atlanta, and Curtis Alfonzo Rower, then 22, of College Park, about three weeks after the shooting.
Lawrence, a real estate developer who shared an office with Tokars, eventually admitted to taking cash from Tokars to kill his wife, and pleaded guilty to federal charges of counterfeiting and aiding and abetting the murder, as well as state charges of murder. He agreed to serve nearly 13 years in a federal witness protection program.
Rower, whose sister worked for Lawrence, reportedly accepted $5,000 from Lawrence to kill Sara Tokars and was sentenced to consecutive life sentences plus 40 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.
Tokars’ murder trial was held in early 1997 in LaFayette in Walker County in northwest Georgia.
Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Jim Bodiford, who presided over the trial after inheriting it from retired Judge Watson White, said it was moved from Cobb due to the case’s publicity over the years.
“For me, it was one of the more memorable, one of the saddest cases I’ve ever been involved in,” Bodiford told the MDJ upon the 20th anniversary of the murder in 2012.
It took 15 days to select a jury, and the trial lasted 44 days, Mondays through Saturdays, detailing Tokars’ involvement with prostitutes, exotic dancers, drug trafficking and offshore bank accounts.
Charron said the lengthy trial was covered “gavel to gavel” by Court TV, cementing the case as one with huge media interest.
“It really kind of captivated the attention of the whole Atlanta community and nationwide,” he said. “We had to move the case outside of the Atlanta metro area that had, on a daily basis for years, covered the investigation and resulting indictment.”
Tokars was found guilty of malice murder March 8, 1997, and sentenced four days later to life in prison without parole.
The Tokars children were raised by maternal aunts in Florida before pursuing careers as a journalist and an emergency medical technician, Charron said.
“It’s really sad, the whole thing,” he said.
Froelich said Tokars claimed to have an agreement with federal authorities that his life sentence without parole would be reduced if he testified for the prosecution in other murder cases.
Froelich said Tokars’ testimony in federal murder cases got three people convicted in relation to six murders, including those of girls aged 6 and 8.
Tokars also helped convict the criminals that inspired the television series “Breaking Bad,” Froelich said.
“They didn’t fulfill it,” Froelich said of the government in relation to the agreement. “They were supposed to write to the courts in Atlanta to consider a reduced sentence, and out of spite, they didn’t do it.”
Froelich said detectives and investigators on the Tokars murder case signed publishing deals in relation to it before Tokars was even arrested, and that an Atlanta news anchor was fired after making up stories about the case to drive viewership.
“He was a well-known lawyer, he had a beautiful wife and the two kids, it became nationwide news,” Froelich said. “I was shocked at how big it became.”