As a former prosecutor, part-time judge and prominent criminal defense attorney, Fred Tokars worked on all sides of the criminal justice system.
But Tokars found himself on the other side of the law when prosecutors charged him in the murder of his wife.
In what appeared to be a robbery gone awry, his wife was shot in the head in front of the couple's two young children. Though the shooter and the middleman who paid him were charged soon after, the cause of the tragedy soon pointed to the widower, Fred Tokars, himself.
Fred Tokars was charged with arranging his wife's murder to prevent her from exposing his alleged underworld activities, including a drug trafficking operation.
But, even before the murder investigation, the shady side of Fred Tokars began to emerge. Before the couple had celebrated their fifth anniversary, Sara Tokars was so suspicious of her husband's infidelity, she hired a private investigator to tail him. Her suspicions grew when she discovered his secret foreign bank accounts. She made copies of the records for her sister to keep in case anything happened to her. Unbeknownst to her, Fred Tokars took out several insurance policies totaling $1.7 million on Sara's life.
On November 29, 1992, Sara Tokars and her sons Ricky, then 7, and Mikey, then 4, were returning to their suburban Atlanta home from a Thanksgiving visit with her parents in Florida when they encountered an armed intruder in their home.
The intruder forced the three back into the car and, less than a mile away, shot Sara Tokars in the back of the head at point blank range with a sawed-off shotgun and fled. Ricky Tokars reached across his mother's body to turn off the ignition, took his little brother by the hand and ran to a nearby house for help.
Police initially suspected that the incident was a bungled robbery or kidnapping with a potential link to a disgruntled client of Tokars' criminal practice. They soon made their way to Eddie Lawrence, then 27, a real-estate developer, with whom Fred Tokars shared several businesses and an office address, and to whom the lawyer had loaned $70,000.
On December 14, police arrested Lawrence on bad-check charges. Lawrence's secretary, Toozdae Rower, told authorities Lawrence had recently approached her brother, Curtis, then 22, about getting a gun and shooting someone. Later that month, Curtis Rower was arrested and charged with Sara Tokars' murder. He claimed Lawrence offered him $5,000 to get rid of a "white lady who was standing in the way of getting a lot of money."
According to Rower, on November 29, Lawrence drove him to the Tokars' house and left him inside to wait for Sara Tokars' return. Rower said Lawrence knew a sliding glass door at the house had a broken latch, and they used that door to get inside.
Fearing his partner had abandoned him, Rower said, he tried to force Sara to drive him back to Atlanta. He claimed he spotted Lawrence's truck in a cul-de-sac. When Sara pulled off the road, he says, Lawrence ran up to the car and grabbed the gun, causing it to fire.
Lawrence denied any involvement in the murder — by himself or by Fred Tokars — for about seven months. But after a plea agreement he claimed Tokars offered him $25,000 cash and a $910,000 investment in their joint business to arrange Sara Tokars' murder.
Lawrence pleaded guilty to federal charges of counterfeiting and aiding and abetting in the murder of Sara Tokars. He also pleaded guilty to state charges of murder. As part of the deal, he would serve 12 and a half years in federal custody and be placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Lawrence said that Fred Tokars had insisted the children be unharmed but recommended that Sara Tokars be shot in the head to ensure her death. On December 23, Lawrence and Rower were charged with murder. That day, Cobb County authorities named Tokars a suspect in his wife's homicide and federal authorities disclosed that he was also under investigation for money-laundering as part of an ongoing drug-trafficking probe.
Fred Tokars was also charged with federal counts of racketeering, conspiracy, money-laundering and using a telephone in commission of a murder for hire. The kidnapping and shooting of Sara Tokars was the basis for some of the federal charges, including the racketeering count.
Fred Tokars was given life without parole on March 12, 1997.