State News

December 1, 2012

Notorious convict turns prosecution witness

ATLANTA — Twenty years ago, Fred Tokars destroyed his family and turned Atlanta upside down when he had his wife shot to death in front of his two young sons.

The sensational case dominated the headlines in 1992 and electrified Atlanta’s legal community: Tokars was a high-profile attorney who was a fixture inside the courtroom and a recognizable name outside of it, thanks to advertisements peddling his legal skills.

After his 1993 arrest, Tokars’ sons moved to Florida to live with relatives, never to speak with their father again. Tokars went to the bowels of the federal prison system, a marked man because he started his legal career as a prosecutor and part-time judge.

Now, prosecutors say Tokars has deliberately, even courageously, acted to rewrite the end of his sordid story.

Over the last decade, Tokars has helped solve six murders, providing testimony that sent one man to death row and another to prison for life. Tokars, said one prosecutor, testified so his sons would one day learn he was capable of good.

“One of the reasons Fred said he did this was to leave a good legacy for his children,” said Noel Levy, an ex-Marine and retired Arizona prosecutor who, with Tokars as his star witness, convicted a man named Robert Ortloff in 2008, for the 1984 murder of a young woman.

“He was critical to the prosecution,” said Levy. “If it wasn’t for him, that cold case wouldn’t have been filed.”

Four years earlier, in Iowa, Tokars’ testimony helped send Dustin Lee Honken to death row. Honken, a large-scale methamphetamine manufacturer, was convicted of two separate killings of men who he feared would testify against him. One of those crimes was the nightmarish killings of a drug-dealing partner, that man’s girlfriend and her two young children.

Honken, a vicious psychopath, justified killing the kids because “they were rats being raised by rats.”

Today, Tokars’ exact location is a closely guarded secret. He is in the federal government’s witness protection program and his name has been expunged from the prison database.

He lives alone in a cell where he watches cable TV, reads the Wall Street Journal to keep up with current events and sometimes calls friends to reminisce on good times from long ago, according to one friend who has stayed in touch with him.

He has become an observant Jew and his hair is said to be long, as is his beard. He is confined to a wheelchair due to a mysterious neurological disorder and spinal problems. Tokars, 59, also longs to re-connect with his two sons. Not surprisingly, they grew up resenting him.

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