Assuring there will be no more trials in the contract killing of east Cobb mother Sara Tokars, a soleman Curtis Alfonzo Rower appeared in a Cobb County courtroom Wednesday to plead guilty to murder in exchange, he received a sentence of life without parole.
Superior Court Chief Judge George Kreeger accepted the agreement between the state and lawyers for Rower, telling the defendant. “Mr. Rower, each day you should think about the two children that no longer have a mother because of your actions, You should think about that every day.”
The guilty plea concludes a murder case that has gripped the public for more that four years, the kidnapping of a young east Cobb mother and her 4 and 6 year old sons, and her subsequent death from a single shotgun blast to the head in front of the boys. It was a crime ordered by her preminent husband.
Fredric Tokars, a former Atlanta lawyer, prosecuter and part-time city judge, was involved in a large cocaine and money-laundering conspiracy and hired his business partner, confessed go-between Eddie Lawrence, to kill Mrs. Tokars on Nov. 29, 1992. It was Lawrence who recruited Rower, a crack addict, to do the killing.
Rower had previously been found guilty of other crimes relating to the sensational slaying, which occured after Mrs. Tokars and the boys returned from a family Thanksgiving trip to Florida. But a lone jury holdout led to a mistrial on the most serious charge against the 28-year old Atlanta man – murder.
Prior to Wednesday, a retrial was set for May 27 in which prosecutors would have a had another shot at a death sentence for the admitted triggerman.
“Justic has been served,” Cobb District Attorney Tom Charron said after the briefhearing. “the three people responsible for Sara Tokars’ murder have been brought to justice.”
Rower, dressed in a striped, casual shirt, answered Judge Kreeger’s questions in a
soft-spoken voice, telling the judge he had not been coerced to make the admission of guilt. Flanked by his tow lead attorneys, Edwin Marger and David Simpson, Rower stood in front of Judge Kreeger as the plea was entered.
Marger pointed out his client has never dented his guilt in the murder.
“From the first day Mr. Rower was arrested, he’s always spoken openly and honestly about his complicity in this case.” Marger said to Judge Kreeger. “This is his desire and has always been his desire to plead guilty in this case…In this case the system has worked. It’s just taken a little time.”
District Attorney Charron said his decision was based entirely on the outsome of Fred Tokars’ two-month trial in northwest Georgia, in which a jury spared him from the electric chair.
“When the defendant Tokars, who we felt was the mastermind behind this, received a life sentence…it opened up the door for negotiations again.” Charron said. “Hopefully, the appeal with Mr. Toakrs, will go without a hitch, and we can close this thing out.”
Charron said he was not particularly happy about accepting a plea, but in light of the two prior state trials it was the best thing to do. “I still feel this is a death penalty case.”
Sara Tokars’ family, Dr. and Mrs. John Ambrusko of Bradenton, Fla, and their six surviving daughters, have been vocal throughout the ordeal. They were not in court Wednesday, but through their attorney, Dwight Davis of the Atlanta law firm Kind & Spalding, the Ambrusko family issued a statement reluctantly supporting the plea arrangement.
“We would continue to fight for the rest of our lives if it meant that Sara’s killers would get the punishment they deserve,” the family said in a written statement. “Mr. Charron agrees, but he informed us it will be highly unlikely that a jury will give Curtis Rower the proper sentence.
“Having experienced the fiasco of two murder trials, we are forced to recognize that he is right.”
In a rare move, Rower and his attorneys agreed to a sentence of life without parole, though he would not normally have been eligible for such a penalty.
The law allowing for life in prison without the possibility for parole, an option for juries only in death penalty cases, went into effect after Mrs. Tokars was killed and therfore would not have applied to teh Rower case.
But Charron said the life without parole sentence could be applied with an agreement from both sides.
Because life without parole was the offered sentence and applies only is capital cases. Judge Kreeger had to make a finding that the legal circumstances to get the death penalty; including that the murder was committed during another felony and it was unusually savage, applied to the case. He did.
“He’s certainly not looking forward to spending the rest of his life in jail, but he’s accepted it.” the elder Rower said.
Marger pointed out that Rower was abused by his father as a young child, but his father has since straightened himself out and came forward to admit the abuse may have influenced Curtis’ criminal lifestyle as an adult.
“I think the end product shows what happens.” Marger said.
Rower will be returned to the state penitentiary in Reldsville to continue serving his sentence.