orders a "hit" on his wife
November 29, 1992
Sara Tokars, a
Marietta homemaker, is killed in front of her two young children.
December 23, 1992
Eddie Lawrence and
Toozdae Rower are indicted on murder charges in the death of
August 25, 1993
A federal grand
jury indicts Fred Tokars
June 17, 1994
pleads guilty in the murder of Sara Tokars
March 8, 1997
Fred Tokars is
convicted of murder in the death of his wife, Sara
Fred Tokars was, at
best, an unlikely criminal. As a one-time prosecutor and a current
defense attorney Tokars had seen both sides of the process and what
happens to those convicted of crimes. Yet Tokars was faced with exposure
of exactly what he was (a felon with ongoing criminal enterprises) by a
wife who knew a little too much. That drove Fred Tokars to murder.
Sara Tokars knew of Fred's
infidelity. She knew of his foreign bank accounts and shady dealings
with unsavory characters. She did not know about the almost $2 million
in life insurance that Fred Tokars had taken out on Sara. That fact
might have warned about her impending death.
Sara also knew something was amiss,
however, and she began to make copies of incriminating evidence, which
she gave to her sister, whom she also told of her suspicions. She was
returning home from a Thanksgiving visit with her Mom and Dad in Florida
when Curtis Rower kidnapped her and her two sons, Ricky and Mikey. After
forcing the three into the Tokars' van, Rower made Sara drive for a mile,
then blasted Sarah's head with a sawed-off shotgun in front of her two
Initially the crime appeared to be
robbery gone bad, but as the case was investigated, the police realized
something far more sinister was occurring. Investigators quickly found a
real-estate developer, Eddie Lawrence, with whom Fred Tokars had a
business connection. It was through Lawrence that they found the shooter,
Lessons of the Fred Tokars
May 3-4, 1997
In the 1980's and early 1990's Fred Tokars was a
crooked lawyer in Atlanta. He engaged in numerous criminal activities,
including money laundering. On November 29, 1992 Fred Tokars' beautiful
young wife Sara was kidnaped and shotgunned to death by Eddie Lawrence
and Curtis Rower. In 1993 Tokars, Lawrence, and Rower were all charged
with her murder by a Cobb County grand jury.
In 1994 Fred Tokars was convicted of racketeering and
other federal felonies in federal court and was given four sentences of
life without parole in a federal prison. After his federal sentences
were upheld on appeal, Tokars was put on trial before a jury in a
Georgia superior court last January for the murder of Sara. The trial
was televised live on Court TV.
On Saturday, March 8, 1997 the jury found Fred Tokars
guilty of her murder. Four days later the same jury found that the state
had proved beyond a reasonable doubt several aggravating circumstances
permitting a death sentence, but nonetheless exercised its discretion to
impose a life sentence on Tokars.
The horrible murder of Sara Tokars, which cannot be
sufficiently condemned, must not blot out our eternal vigilance for
liberty and justice. There are important civil liberties lessons to be
learned as a result of the Fred Tokars murder trial.
First, the "necessity" exception to the hearsay rule
was ballooned to allow the jury to hear a vast mass of hearsay and
double hearsay testimony, highly damaging to the defendant, concerning
the marriage of Fred and Sara Tokars. Grieving relatives or angry
friends of Sara were the sources of most of this evidence. The Tokars
trial proves there is increasing danger that Americans will be
prosecuted and punished on the basis of tittle-tattle. We had better be
careful about any further relaxing of the rules of evidence.
Second, the death penalty is a very expensive and a
very arbitrary procedure. Prosecutors use it for political purposes.
Death penalty cases are now tried on the basis of prosecution testimony
coming from jailhouse informers, prostitutes, drug dealers, and
murderers, all claiming that the defendant made breathless confessions
of guilt to them.
Sometimes the family members of a victim may hijack a
public prosecution and transform it into a private vendetta. Under the
guise of victim's rights, the prosecution is now allowed to produce a
scripted film to be shown to the jury prior to deciding sentence.
Victim's rights are now used to mask vindictiveness; victim's rights are
becoming a smoke screen to advance the agenda of the law and order
Third, every day prosecutors do more to help
criminals than all the liberals and defense lawyers could ever dream of
doing. In the Tokars case Cobb County D.A. Tom Charron showered the
fiendish murderer, liar, and habitual criminal Eddie Lawrence, a hands-on
killer of Sara, with sweetheart deals that will permit him to be
released from prison and live in the witness protection program. How
many other prosecution witness-criminals received leniency in exchange
for giving testimony incriminating Tokars? Some limits need to placed on
the unlimited, discretionary power of prosecutors to grant favors to
government witnesses or informers.
Fourth, the Tokars case reminds of the role that race
plays in death penalty cases. The victim was white and from an affluent
white family that wanted a death sentence. It is inconceivable that a
black family, or a poor white family, would have had the input into
prosecutorial decision-making that Sara's family had.
Finally, the jury verdict giving Tokars a life
sentence was an enormous defeat for Tom Charron. He gambled a massive
expenditure in taxpayer monies on the jackpot of a death sentence, and
he lost. It was Charron's Folly, Charron's Fiasco, Charron's Flop.
Despite his prodigious efforts Charron could not even
convince a panel of 12 death penalty supporters to vote to kill Tokars.
Perhaps as much as $1 million of taxpayers' funds was wasted even though,
as Charron knew, the defendant was already serving four life sentences
without parole, and even though Charron had extended excessive leniency
to one of Sara's actual killers, and had been unable to convict the
other actual killer.
However, Charron will suffer no adverse political
consequences. To thunderous applause, he will simply remind people that
at least he tried to obtain a death sentence. In this state, no
prosecutor or politician ever lost an election by supporting capital
Once prominent attorney on trial
for killing his wife to hide a secret life
Aug. 15, 2001
(Court TV) — As a former prosecutor, part-time judge and prominent
criminal defense attorney, Fredric 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 himself.
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 totalling $1.7 million on Sara's life.
On Nov. 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 Tokars shared
several businesses and an office address, and to whom the lawyer had
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 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
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
Christmas Eve suicide note of Fred Tokars
Fred Tokars' unsuccessful attempt at suicide
produced this note, which would later be used as a trial exhibit
Dear Rick, Mike, Norma, Andy and Friends and Family:
I am sorry for the pain and sorrow my lifestyle has
inflicted upon you. I never wanted Sara or anybody to die or get hurt.
I am a weak person and cannot stand the pain and
sorrow any longer. So I want to end it.
Last night I was asked "how could you work with
anyone who could do this" — and I had no answer.
Please make sure my little Mike and Rick are taken
care of. I love them so much. So did little Sara.
Andy and Mother Norma are the only 2 people who stood
by my side to the very end. Without them I would have died a long time
I took the lie detector test only because I knew that
I was innocent. Ever since I took it I wanted to die. There is just too
much pain for me, even though I passed.
Yesterday little Ricky ask me who was the best person
in Moms family—I hesitated and he said Joni. I want Joni to take care of
Rick & Mike. I want Andy to take care of my money for the education of
all Tokars and Amibrisko children.
Please make sure all children have a chance to go to
college. I want Andy to replace me as trustee for my mother because he
is so strong and honest. He will be very good at that.
I ask that all of my and Sara's money go to a college
fund for the Tokars-Ambrisko Wilox kids. I also want to keep our house
in Canada as its my real beginning. Mike, Rick, Sara, and the Wiloxes
love it. Please try to keep it for them as there is nothing like it left.
Please call Bob Brenner and tell him that I love him
and have always admired him.
Whale and Neal and Oakie were also the best friends
in the world. I'm sorry for not spending enough time with them. I just
worked to hard.
Sara really loved X-Mas — so do what you need to do
to make everyone happy. She really was very special to me — Sar won't
I know your loss was bad, but mine was really worse.
Every day I felt like I was going to die without her. She was always
great w/ everybody.
The real pain comes from trying to help ??? the
miserable defend myself. There are people all over Atlanta you know and
love me. They know I would never hurt anybody.
I really had it made and I can't explain to you how
hard it was to lose everything in 1 day. Mike and Rick have been
sheltered from the press so far. Let them see everything and draw their
own conclusions. They will see I could never hurt Sara or anyone else.
The Press killed me.
Please explain to my friends my weakness and let them
know what happened. I can't live w/ all this pressure. I'm sorry for all
the pain and suffering that I have caused everyone.
But I loved Sara, never hurt her, and I have now died
I love you Sara, Rick, Mike.
Give my judge's badge to little Ricky. Give my DA's
badge to little Michael. Make sure they know how hard I worked for them
The Press have made me feel like a suspect. I
shouldn't be. The torture has weakened me to the point where I can't
take it anymore. I want to die.
I'm very sad. Please help my children, Norma, Andy,
and my family.
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Fredric W. TOKARS, James H. Mason, Defendants-Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals,
Sept. 6, 1996.
B. Factual Background
This case involves drugs, money laundering, torture,
kidnapping, and murder-for-hire. The case is best explained when
divided into two sections: the narcotics money laundering enterprise
and the murder of Sara Tokars ("Sara").
1. Narcotics money laundering enterprise
At the trial, Jessie Ferguson ("Ferguson") testified
that he and Julius Cline ("Cline") were drug dealers in Detroit,
Michigan. In July of 1985, Ferguson moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where
he met Mason. Cline also moved to Atlanta, and he and Ferguson
invested $75,000 in drug proceeds in the VIP Club. Mason was the
manager of the club, and he was listed as an owner in order to obtain
a liquor license because Cline and Ferguson were "in trouble" with the
authorities in Detroit. Ferguson testified that Cline's principal
source of cocaine was "Andrew." Cline transported the cocaine from
Miami, Florida, to Atlanta. Andre Willis ("Willis") testified that he
obtained cocaine from Cline until Cline was murdered on July 25, 1992.
Willis distributed the cocaine in Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
According to Willis, Cline also obtained cocaine from Al Brown ("Brown"),
who was part owner of the Diamonds and Pearls nightclub in Detroit.
Willis testified that he and Cline received and sold approximately
twenty kilograms of cocaine per week. According to Willis, Cline
described his relationship with Mason as follows: "[Mason] was just a
front for the nightclubs because [Ferguson] and himself had a criminal
record, and they could not get any liquor license in their name, so
James Mason would be the front for all the nightclubs." R62-2059.
According to Willis, Cline owned several clubs, including the VIP,
Traxx, the Parrot, and Zazu's, as well as the Park Place Beauty Salon.
Marvin Baynard ("Baynard") met with Tokars in late
1986 to discuss providing a legal defense to drug runner Dexter Askew
("Askew"). Askew had been charged with possession of cocaine that had
been provided by Baynard. Baynard informed Tokars that he sold one-fourth
to one-half a kilo of cocaine per week amounting to between $5,000 and
$10,000. Tokars requested a $10,000 retainer fee and said he would
help Baynard "legitimize" himself by incorporating Baynard's business.
Tokars incorporated a business which Baynard used with Alex Yancey ("Yancey"),
Baynard's associate in the cocaine business. Baynard sold drugs from
1986 to 1989 and obtained cocaine from Cline and Greg Johnson ("Johnson")
beginning in 1987. Baynard recalled that Tokars often discussed
offshore banks and had a blue book that explained how to set up an
offshore bank for $15,000. Baynard did not invest his drug money but
instead kept it as cash in his bedroom and, on Tokars's advice, kept
the cocaine in another apartment under a different name. Baynard
testified that he introduced Johnson to Tokars so that Tokars could
launder some of Johnson's drug money.
Murray Silver ("Silver") first met Tokars when
Tokars was an assistant district attorney. After leaving the district
attorney's office, Tokars shared office space with Silver from
approximately July 1986 to October 1989. Silver recalled a
conversation with Tokars about a booklet Tokars authored entitled Tax
Havens and Offshore Investment Opportunities. The booklet details
Tokars's plan for laundering drug money. Tokars asked that Silver
refer some of his clients to Tokars. Tokars said that he was not
worried about the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") because he intended
to leave no paper trail. Tokars told Silver that he had used this
process to help a client who was going through a divorce hide $150,000
from his wife and the IRS by depositing it in his bank in the Bahamas.
Silver recalled that Tokars lectured to law enforcement officials on
the topic of money laundering. The Director of the Georgia Police
Academy testified that Tokars taught courses in money laundering for
the academy, as well as for the Federal Law Enforcement Training
In late December of 1988, Mason, Cline, and Ferguson
accused Michael Jones ("Jones") of stealing money from Mason's home.
Jones testified that he went to Mason's house where Cline closed and
locked the door. Ferguson placed a 9-millimeter handgun on the table
and asked Jones whether he knew where the money was. Ferguson then
placed the handgun down Jones's throat and threatened to kill him.
When Mason returned home, Jones recounted the meeting to him. About
thirty days later, Mason asked Jones to meet him at the Park Place
Salon. Mason then asked Jones to accompany him home. Ferguson arrived
at Mason's home and instructed Mason to leave. Mason left, and
Ferguson proceeded to physically torture Jones for two to three hours.
Ferguson then put Jones in the bathroom, but Jones escaped. Ferguson
testified that he and Cline would often keep large amounts of drug
money at Mason's home. Mason told Ferguson that he thought that Jones
had stolen the money. Mason hired a private investigator who observed
Jones attempting to purchase fur coats and a new car. Ferguson
testified that he instructed Mason to get Jones to the house.
Mason and Cline, together with Jim Killeen, Bill
Fraser, and William Kohler, formed Zebra, Inc., and Zebra Management,
Inc., to operate a club called Dominique's. Mason and Cline
contributed $20,000 to the operation but were later removed from
Zebra's due to Cline's reputation as a drug dealer. Mason and Cline
then opened Traxx. Ferguson testified that he invested $15,000 in
Traxx and that Cline invested $45,000.
Mark McDougall ("McDougall"), who had taken cocaine
from Mason, testified that he and Zane Carroll ("Carroll") discussed
with Tokars their proposed investment in the Parrot nightclub.
McDougall and Carroll would own 51% of the club. Billy Carter ("Carter")
would obtain the liquor license due to McDougall's felony conviction.
Tokars and Carter discussed in McDougall's presence that Cline was the
silent partner and money man for Mason. Tokars incorporated the Parrot
Acquisition Corporation. The shareholder and management agreement
reflected Tokars as the club's attorney and Carter and Mason as
subscribing to 40,000 and 60,000 shares of stock, respectively.
Ferguson testified that Cline invested $40,000 to $60,000 in the
Parrot. When McDougall and Carroll were not pleased with the
investment return, McDougall threatened Cline with a gun.
Linda Campbell ("Campbell"), who was employed at the
Park Place Salon, was assaulted by Mason. She employed an attorney and
filed suit against Mason, and her case was settled for $17,500, for
which Mason's shares of stock in the Parrot were pledged as collateral.
Campbell's attorney testified that Tokars represented Mason and that
it was Tokars's idea to pledge the Parrot stock. Campbell employed new
counsel who demanded that the stock be assigned to Campbell because
Mason had defaulted on payment. Tokars claimed that he was no longer
the secretary of the corporation, so a suit was filed against all of
the officers and shareholders, including Tokars, Mason, Cline, Carter,
After Zebra, Inc., was evicted from Dominique's for
non-payment of rent, Mason approached Douglas McKendrick ("McKendrick")
claiming that he had an endorsement contract with Deion Sanders ("Sanders").
Sanders testified that he met Mason through Willie Harris ("Harris").
Sanders signed an agreement with Harris, who signed as President of
Atlanta Entertainment Management, Inc. In September of 1990, Tokars
incorporated Atlanta Entertainment Management, Inc., listing Mason,
Cline, and Harris as its directors. Tokars helped finalize the deal
with Sanders and the management agreement with McKendrick. Carl Tatum,
an employee of the club Deion's, testified that he discussed with
Mason the fact that Cline was a cocaine dealer and that Mason knew
Cline dealt cocaine.
In 1988, Harris began selling cocaine for Cline as a
middle-man brokering transactions with other customers. In one day,
Harris received between $250,000 and $500,000. Harris would place the
cash, minus his percentage, in a safe at Cline's apartment. Harris
once delivered cocaine to Mason at Cline's request. Harris later heard
from Mason that the cocaine was intended for a woman in Mason's
residential complex. In 1991, Harris was arrested on cocaine charges.
Mason paid Tokars $5,000 to help Harris. Tokars filed affidavits at
Harris's bond hearing stating that neither Mason nor Cline knew Harris
to sell, distribute, possess, or consume illegal drugs. However, this
was after Harris had delivered the cocaine to Mason and had conducted
a substantial cocaine business on behalf of Cline. After obtaining
bond, Harris met with Tokars, who advised him that he would be found
guilty and receive a substantial sentence unless he could "set someone
up." Tokars suggested setting up Cline, but Harris refused. Harris
testified that Tokars then said that Harris was right that he could
not set up Cline "because if you do Julius [Cline], it will role [sic]
down and get James [Mason] because everybody knows James doesn't have
any money, and he gets his money from Julius." R62-1912.
Harris and Mason decided to open a new club, and
Mason claimed that he had secured $50,000 from Brown to open it. John
Vara ("Vara") testified that through his corporation, JDV, he sold the
leasehold rights to Diamonds and Pearls to Mason for $25,000. The
closing was held at Tokars's office in November of 1991. Vara was
introduced to Brown by Mason, who said that Brown was part of
management. Mason and Tokars used Atlanta House Clubs, Inc., as the
purchaser of the lease.
In the spring of 1992, Tokars introduced Eddie
Lawrence ("Lawrence") to Mason at Diamonds and Pearls. Tokars also
introduced Lawrence to Cline, Willis, and Harris. Tokars told Lawrence
that Cline was a drug dealer and that Mason was a client for whom he
laundered drug money. Lawrence testified that Tokars and Mason said
that $500,000 was used to renovate Diamonds and Pearls.
In 1992, Cline began receiving cocaine from Brown.
At the time, Cline was renovating Traxx, which was to be renamed the
Phoenix. Willis testified that Cline was angry with Mason due to the
loss of the Parrot. Cline asked Willis to invest $150,000 in the
Phoenix. Willis was to obtain the money from cocaine sales. Cline told
Willis that he "had a white friend that was an attorney and judge that
was advising him on how to invest his money in the right way" and was
helping him with the clubs. R63-2080.
On August 5, 1992, a car carrying 115 kilograms of
cocaine was stopped in Amarillo, Texas. The Drug Enforcement Agency
("DEA") airlifted the car to Atlanta, and the driver agreed to
cooperate. Following an intermediary's arrest, the cocaine was
delivered to Brown, who was then arrested. A search of Brown's car
revealed a business card identifying Brown and Mason's association
with Peachtree Entertainment, weekly reports of Diamonds and Pearls,
two digital beepers, and $49,700 in cash. DEA agents later executed
two search warrants for Brown's residence and found a money counting
machine, a bulletproof vest, digital beepers, and records. Tokars
represented Brown at an August 11, 1992, detention hearing. Assistant
United States Attorney Janis Gordon ("Gordon") expressed to Tokars
that the government was interested in Brown's cooperation. Gordon
noted that since Tokars had incorporated Diamonds and Pearls,
he might have a potential conflict in representing Brown. Gordon said
that if the government attempted to seize the nightclub, Tokars might
be called as a witness.
Mason represented to the DEA and IRS agents that he
was the 100% owner of Diamonds and Pearls and that Brown only served
as the "doorman" and handy man for the club. Mason was then subpoenaed
to produce all records of the club. When Tokars learned about the
subpoena, he referred Mason to another attorney. Tokars later told
AUSA Gordon that Brown had fired him.
The records of Diamonds and Pearls and Atlanta House
Clubs, Inc., were also being sought in connection with separate civil
litigation. James McCreary ("McCreary"), an attorney for Twilights,
Inc., requested that Tokars provide Twilights with information about
Atlanta House Clubs, Inc., and its operation of Diamonds and Pearls.
Contrary to Mason's assertions to the DEA and the IRS, Tokars claimed
that Atlanta House Clubs, Inc., did not exist, was defunct, and had no
assets. Tokars said that although the liquor license was obtained in
the name Atlanta House Clubs, Inc., the actual company was Diamonds,
Inc., which Tokars claimed was owned by Mason. Twilights sued Atlanta
House Clubs, Inc., and Mason and Cline for failing to pay the
additional $50,000 required for the purchase of Zazu's. At the time of
the default, Jeff Ganek, Twilights's attorney, advised his client to
liquidate the nightclub, but when he discovered a liquor license
advertisement by Atlanta House Clubs, Inc., for Diamonds and Pearls,
he suggested that the company attempt to collect the $50,000.
Tokars told McCreary that he thought Atlanta House
Clubs, Inc., had no assets but that he had just discovered some assets.
Tokars informed McCreary that Cline had used Atlanta House Clubs, Inc.,
to operate another club, the Phoenix. Tokars suggested that if
Twilights would dismiss Mason from the lawsuit, Tokars and Mason would
help Twilights obtain a judgment against Atlanta House Clubs, Inc.
Tokars told McCreary that following Cline's murder, members of his
family were operating the Phoenix. As a result, Tokars suggested that
Twilights might be able to satisfy its claim through Cline's estate.
Tokars told McCreary that Cline's murder was drug-related. Tokars
represented that Zazu's was Cline's venture and that Cline had been
very upset with McCreary's clients, even to the point of wanting to
murder one of them.
2. The Murder of Sara Tokars
During a political fundraiser reception, Tokars
stated that his wife Sara had recently been in his office working on
his accounts receivable. Sarah Suttler ("Suttler"), the Tokars'
neighbor, testified that Sara often discussed divorcing Tokars but was
afraid she would not get custody of their two sons. In the fall of
1992, Suttler said Sara was elated and said "I can divorce Fred now
because I have the goods on him, and he'll not get my boys ... I have
found papers of income tax evasion." R69-3671. According to Suttler,
Sara gave the information to a private detective and she felt
protected by this.
In 1991, Lawrence employed Yancey in the
construction business. Lawrence knew Yancey to be a cocaine dealer.
Yancey asked Lawrence for $20,000, but Lawrence, who did not have
$20,000, gave Yancey only $10,000 to purchase cocaine. Lawrence said
that they could re-sell the cocaine and make the remainder of the
$20,000. Lawrence advanced the money, but the plan failed. Yancey then
decided to produce counterfeit money in order to repay Lawrence. The
United States Secret Service ("Secret Service") began investigating
their activities. Lawrence testified that he and Yancey would pass
counterfeit money by going to nightclubs, buying drugs, and then
reselling the drugs for legitimate money. Yancey and Lawrence
eventually became aware of the Secret Service investigation.
Yancey introduced Lawrence to Tokars. Yancey and
Lawrence informed Tokars of their counterfeiting activities. Tokars
suggested that he could take the counterfeit money and distribute it
in the Bahamas, but the two declined. Lawrence hired Tokars, but
Yancey fled and was arrested in December of 1993. The Secret Service
confronted Lawrence, but he denied his involvement in the scheme.
Lawrence, accompanied by Tokars, agreed to go to the Secret Service
office where Lawrence took a polygraph test. Tokars was told that
Lawrence tested deceptive when asked about his involvement in passing
counterfeit money. Lawrence testified that he and Tokars then began
conducting a money laundering business. The two used Lawrence's
construction business as a front and also incorporated several other
businesses that were used to launder money. Lawrence solicited drug
dealers by going to nightclubs. Tokars advanced approximately $70,000
to Lawrence for operating expenses. Tokars discussed with Lawrence how
he used offshore banks to launder money.
In late July or early August of 1992, Tokars asked
Lawrence if he would kill somebody. In mid-September, Tokars asked
Lawrence to kill his wife Sara because she wanted to divorce him and
take everything. In another discussion, Tokars told Lawrence that Sara
wanted the house and his money. Lawrence advised Tokars, "Let her have
it," saying that "he could always get that back." R65-2700. According
to Lawrence, Tokars stated "that he worked too hard, he went to school
at night, and she never did anything. All she ever did was spend his
money, and that he wasn't going to give it to her. He would kill her
first." Id. During a later discussion, Lawrence asked about Tokars's
children. Lawrence recalled that Tokars said, "They will be alright.
They will get over it. They are young. They will get over it."
R65-2700-01. Lawrence testified that Tokars "just wanted it done" and
said that "she was putting pressure on him and he wanted to kill her.
That was what he wanted to do, he wanted her dead." R65-2701.
Tokars first indicated that the murder should occur
in his office because he could cover it up due to his influence in
Atlanta. Lawrence would not agree. Tokars then decided it should
happen in their home so it would look like a burglary. Tokars offered
to pay Lawrence $25,000 plus a portion of the life insurance proceeds.
In August of 1989, Tokars had increased the life insurance proceeds on
Sara from $250,000 to $1,750,000. Tokars continued to pressure
Lawrence to kill Sara, going so far as to threaten to destroy
Lawrence's business if he would not comply. Lawrence testified that
Tokars said that he did not care who did it. Lawrence contacted Curtis
Rower ("Rower") and offered him $5,000 to commit the murder. Rower
agreed. On the Monday or Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving of 1992, Tokars
informed Lawrence that Sara would be going to Florida and that he
wanted her killed when she came back. Tokars was scheduled to be in
Alabama meeting with a prisoner at that time, so he would have an
Sara's father testified that Sara and the two
children drove to Florida and arrived on the Tuesday before
Thanksgiving and that Tokars flew into Tampa the same day. Tokars
returned home on Saturday and requested that Lawrence meet him the
next day. Lawrence met Tokars at his law office, and Tokars informed
Lawrence that Sara had already left Florida and would arrive in
Atlanta around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Tokars checked into a Montgomery
hotel and called his answering service to leave the number where he
could be reached in case of an emergency. That same day, there were
many phone calls involving telephones associated with Tokars,
Lawrence, Sara's father, and the Montgomery hotel.
The record demonstrates that Lawrence picked up
Rower around 7:00 p.m. Rower was equipped with a sawed-off shotgun.
Lawrence left Rower at the Tokars's residence and instructed him to
kill a white female about age forty. Lawrence drove to a neighboring
subdivision to wait. About two hours later, Lawrence saw Sara's white
4-Runner vehicle driving off the road. Rower got out of Sara's vehicle
and ran toward Lawrence. They then drove to Atlanta because Rower
wanted to buy some drugs.
Rower testified that when Sara arrived home, he made
her get back into her vehicle and leave to take him to Atlanta. Rower
claims that they pulled over, that Lawrence approached, and that
Lawrence grabbed the gun, which went off.
Stipulated testimony indicated that Sara died from a
gunshot wound to the head delivered from a distance of approximately
one foot or less. Sara's two small children were in the vehicle at the
time of the murder.
Wilbert Humphries ("Humphries"), a money launderer,
was in custody in Montgomery, Alabama, in November of 1992. He was
surprised to receive a visit from Tokars on the Sunday after
Thanksgiving. At the jail, Tokars asked Humphries to sign some papers.
Humphries attempted to talk with Tokars about the case, but Tokars "talked
to me very brief like he was in a hurry or something." R66-3035. This
meeting lasted only about ten minutes.
On the Monday following the murder, a cousin of
Sara's, Mary Rose Taylor ("Taylor"), contacted Sara's sister,
Christine Ambrusko ("Ambrusko"), asking her to find the papers of
Tokars that Taylor had asked Sara to copy. Taylor went to Ambrusko's
house, found the documents, copied them, and delivered them to the
police. These records reflected off-shore bank accounts in the Bahamas
and a Class B licensed bank issued by Montserrat. Ambrusko testified
that Sara requested that she keep the documents in a safe place and
give them to the police if anything happened to Sara. According to
Ambrusko, Sara wanted to divorce Tokars but was concerned that he
would take the children. Ambrusko also said that Sara was "very scared
and intimidated." R68-3556.
According to Sara's sister, Gretchen Ambrusko
Schaeffer ("Schaeffer"), after the murder Tokars appeared "very
anxious, and he was making loud noises, kind of moaning and saying, 'I'm
so afraid' and 'I'm scared,' in a loud tone of voice, very nervous
appearing." R67-3228. During a conversation with his mother and
Schaeffer, Tokars said that he did not want to help the police because
he did not want them to look into his business dealings.
On December 6, Tokars, in the presence of counsel,
was interviewed by the police. During the interview, Tokars admitted
that his clients were criminals, and he specifically mentioned Mason
because of Cline's murder, the arrest of Brown, and the murder of
Brown's brother. Tokars said that Mason and Cline were partners in the
Parrot Club and that Mason owned Diamonds and Pearls. Tokars also
admitted that he assisted Mason in incorporating the Parrot Club and
that he represented Mason in a number of civil suits. Tokars further
admitted that Sara had previously hired an attorney to seek a divorce.
Later that evening, with Tokars's consent, police and federal agents
searched Tokars's residence and seized Tokars's calendars for 1988,
1989, and 1990.
Lawrence was arrested on December 12 for writing bad
checks. He was questioned about Sara's murder but denied involvement.
Lawrence was released but then was charged for writing another bad
check. While Lawrence was again in custody, a private investigator for
Tokars questioned him about the murder. On December 20, the police
again interviewed Tokars regarding why he never previously mentioned
his connection with Lawrence. Tokars claimed that he had discussed
their corporations and that all of his dealings with Lawrence were
matters of public record. Tokars described Lawrence as a business
partner, and he acknowledged that he met Lawrence in connection with
the Secret Service's investigation of Yancey. Tokars mentioned that "Mason
was an ongoing, regular client of mine." R69-3808.
The police arrested Lawrence and Rower on December
23, 1992. A police officer called Tokars at Sara's father's home to
inform him of the arrest. Tokars simply said "okay." R67-3162. Sara's
father, Dr. Ambrusko, recalled that Tokars had no reaction to the news.
Following the call, Dr. Ambrusko asked Tokars to tell the family about
Lawrence. In response, Tokars stated that he did not believe Lawrence
was involved. Neal Wilcox, Sara's brother-in-law, testified that
during a conversation with Tokars later in the evening, Tokars "kept
repeating to me that he was worried about the police making a deal."
R67-3216. Tokars claimed that the police "were using these guys to get
to him, and he was worried about the police making a deal for their
testimony against [him]." Id.
On Christmas Eve, Tokars failed to go on a family
outing to Busch Gardens. As time passed without contact from Tokars,
Dr. Ambrusko became worried. He went to look for Tokars and found him
unconscious in his hotel room. The police found a suicide note. Tokars
survived this suicide attempt.