Defender of the Damned
Bruce Harvey can defend the hell out of anyone you can’t prove is guilty. He brokered the deal for Eddie Lawrence, the snitch whose testimony could put Fred Tokars in the electric chair.
Atlanta Magazine | June 1994
Bruce Harvey has mastered the look of slight disgust. He cants his head toward the floor and then slowly looks up, lips tight, dark chocolate eyes narrowed with contempt. His wife says he really is not scowling like this all the time. He is just squinting. His eyesight sucks
“What are you doing calling my wife?” he asks, sensing an ambush here in the building lobby.
His manner is so posture-perfect, so loaded with kinetic potential that one is instinctively compelled to stand a little straighter, clear the cobwebs, and lean into him a little. To argue.
Harvey loves to argue. He is a lawyer. And when he is arguing and things don’t go his way, he reacts. Sometimes he objects until the judge just blocks him out. Even at 43 he will still stomp out of the courtroom or kick his chair. But in the old days he might physically lunge at the prosecutor or a judge. It took him a long time, he admits, to figure out that he can pound the table and scream, “YOU’RE LYING!” as much as he wants, and the witness is still going to say, “No, I’m not.”
This “visceral reaction” has gotten him held in contempt many a time, inducing more than one judge to throw him in jail. A stadium cop once arrested Harvey when he refused to divulge how he had gotten into Ted Turner’s private box at a Braves game. Harvey had earlier accepted the tickets from a complete stranger, perhaps a future client, he figured, and so invoked attorney/client privileges. “The cop bowed up, and then I bowed up … ” and then both Harvey and his wife went to jail. The tickets were stolen.
This is a guy who once even got into a scrap at his local tavern because he was smoking in the no-smoking area. Ah, righteous indignation. It’s a little embarrassing sometimes. On the other hand, the energy that informs this reaction has also made him one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in Atlanta.
“When you first see him you think, ‘Here is a guy we’re going to have trouble with,'” says Cobb County District Attorney Tom Charron, who feels he is at his keenest when facing Harvey. “But in some ways Bruce is a pioneer, unafraid to file motions that have never been tried before. He’s quick to size up a case and push the prosecution to trial, combined with knowing when to look out for the best interest of his client.” In other words, when to cut a deal.
A rebel with a reputation for honesty, a subversive invigorated by judicial ideals, Bruce Harvey is ultimately galvanized by one belief: that while the theory of American justice is innocent until proven guilty, in practice, for most of his clients, it is probably just the opposite.
Whether or not one recognizes Harvey by name, he is at least identifiable by image: the liberal Bill-of-Rightist who tried the SHIT HAPPENS bumper sticker case in Cobb County as a free speech issue; the fiery iconoclast who later sued Cobb County over a Ten Commandments plaque hanging in its county courthouse; the criminal defense lawyer styling in gorgeous hand-tailored suits, boasting the ACQUIT vanity plates on his black, whalefinned Porsche; the master of the 10-second sound bite. The lawyer with tattoos on his arms, hands, and back. The dude with earrings and a two-foot ponytail. You’ve seen him on TV.
During the first six months of the murder-for-hire, money-laundering and racketeering investigation into Atlanta attorney Fred Tokars, as Harvey was jousting with the sovereign in both federal and state courts, he appeared regularly on the evening news to proclaim the innocence of his client, Eddie C. Lawrence, accused of arranging the hit on Tokars’ wife, Sara. By nature, lawyers love such publicity. It is good for business. But right now Harvey is not so sure.
He is standing outside a classroom in the Georgia State law school, ready to teach after a full day at the office. His students, many of them future prosecutors eager to learn how the enemy thinks, love him.
He has a cocksureness that subserves trouble, and seems like someone the FBI might open file on. But at the moment he is waffling between vague, defensive wordmanship and simple embarrassment.
“I caught a lot of grief for that, okay?” he says, referring to a 1989 Fulton County Daily Report profile which revealed that Harvey, who was then making a name for himself by debunking the reliability of DNA evidence, had a propensity for self-mythmaking and glorious tall tales. “l just don’t need all that shit dug up again.” But as he leans back against the wall, the look of slight disgust dissolves into a toothy grin, and Bruce Harvey deflates for just one moment.
“Well… I guess even some bad publicity is better than none, huh?”
He slips through the classroom door.
BRUCE HARVEY GETS depressed if he goes too long without being in court. He is addicted to pleading the merits of another human’s life. He loves making confetti of witness testimony. He loves arguing the law. And he hates snitches.
A “guilt vegetarian,” Harvey would rather eat tripe for dessert than roll his client over against someone else in the government informant game. In fact, there were years there when he would not even represent a turncoat. But he has decided “after much trepidation” that, at least on this point, he does not represent a philosophy. He represents a person.
Back in December of 1992 Harvey had never heard of this person named Eddie Lawrence. One night he got a call from Lawrence’s brother. Lawrence, a 28-year old con man from Decatur, had been picked up on bad check charges. When Harvey went to negotiate with the prosecutor, however, he was informed that his new client was a suspect in what would become Atlanta’s most sensationalized murder case in recent years.
“So I said, ‘Alright, let’s drop these chickenshit bad check charges,'” says Harvey. Subsequently, Lawrence was charged by the state with armed robbery, kidnapping and murder, for which Cobb District Attorney Tom Charron announced he would seek the death penalty. Lawrence was also charged by the federal government with counterfeiting and engaging in crimes of violence in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise, for which he faced life without parole. Nine months later Harvey and co-counsel Mark Spix got Eddie Lawrence a plea bargain that has since been characterized as everything from the deal of the century by Lawrence’s co-defendants to just an average swap for justice by prosecutors.
In exchange for Lawrence’s confession and testimony against Tokars in the federal racketeering case, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend to the judge a “downward departure” on Lawrence’s sentence, which, unlike the state, is dictated by strict sentencing guidelines. They proposed that Lawrence do “at least” 10 years. That time, however, would run concurrently with his state sentence, essentially allowing him to serve a state penalty in a federal facility. Lawrence would also enter the federal witness protection program. He will be sentenced in both federal and state court this month.
Under the agreement he could still get life in prison, but if he actually receives the recommended 10 years and does his time without incident, he will serve about eight and a half. Then he will automatically go to the state’s parole board, an excellent candidate for release. Upon exit he will have a new identity and, if he has taken full advantage of his federal confinement, a college education.
The fact that Harvey and Spix had so closely wed the federal deal to the state deal caused immediate controversy. Attorneys for Curtis Rower, the confessed triggerman, wanted Lawrence to testify about what he received from prosecutors. Tokars’ chief attorney, Jerry Froelich, accused federal prosecutors of being agents of the state, of capitulating to District Attorney Charron, who had difficulty getting an indictment on Tokars until Lawrence pleaded out. There was even, according to Harvey, “pond scum speculation” that he and Spix had shown Lawrence documents that would help his story conform with what prosecutors wanted to hear.
“Given that this case was blown way out of proportion to begin with, everything became hyperbole,” says Harvey, who admits that no matter how good the deal may be, he was simply playing to the hilt the hand he was dealt to begin with. He had started out in the catbird seat and stayed there. “I was never the shooter. I was never the instigator. They had the shooter, and they wanted the instigator. I’m right there in the middle the whole time.”
Harvey’s personal favorite was “A Motion for More Justice and Less Surprise,” a humorous title disguising a very serious and successful bid for state files in the case.
Eddie Lawrence testified in federal court last March that Fred Tokars contacted him to find a hit man who would kill Tokars’ wife, Sara. Lawrence’s testimony played a key role in Tokars’ subsequent conviction on eight federal counts, including charges related to Sara’s murder. Sara Tokars, a Cobb County housewife, was killed in November 1992 in front of her two young sons. Curtis Rower admitted to being the hit man but said he had been hired by Lawrence. Most likely, Lawrence had wanted to point the finger at Tokars from the beginning, to strike a deal. But Harvey held him back.
“Not to go to trial with Eddie was the hardest decision I ever made,” says Harvey. The publicity would have been enormous. He was also convinced he had a triable case. “Look, I can defend the shit out of someone they can’t prove is guilty.” Indeed, Harvey’s reputation for arguing the inarguable was of concern to prosecutors, who knew they needed Lawrence’s testimony to nail Tokars. But from the very beginning Harvey prepared his case not as if he would eventually cut a deal, but as if he would go trial, and win.
Says attorney Guy Davis, a former gubernatorial candidate and one of Harvey’s two Republican friends, “It is not unusual for him to represent a client who would plead not guilty if he got caught with 14 bank guards on his back and the dye going off in his hand. Those people will find a willing advocate in Bruce Harvey.”
His former clients are indeed a roll call of nastiness:
- James Robert Caldwell, convicted of raping and murdering his 12-year-old daughter. Harvey was hired by chief counsel Jimmy Berry to attack the reliability of DNA evidence, which, theretofore, was considered infallible. Harvey had a “stress seizure” during this trial. He’s been a steady smoker ever since.
- Carlton Gary, the “Columbus Strangler,” who Harvey co-defended for free until his practice nearly collapsed. Harvey was so close to going broke at the time that book companies were suing him for the law books he had ordered.
- Mary Nash, a nursing assistant convicted of incinerating an 80-year-old woman in the woman’s own home while her 82-year-old husband crawled out of the burning house screaming, “I love you!”
- Michael Glean, the pilot caught with Kimberly Wallace’s body greased and stuffed into a toolbox in his airplane, with a flight plan filed over the Okefenokee Swamp.
Harvey helped pal and fellow ACLU attorney Michael Hauptman defend Walter Leroy Moody, convicted of blowing up with mail bombs both a federal judge and a civil rights lawyer. He was one of the first attorneys appointed for Christopher Drogoul, alleged mastermind of the BNL bank scandal. And though he does a little civil work and represents the occasional celebrity, like singer Bobby Brown, accused of letting his bodyguard assault someone, Harvey’s specialty, his most lucrative business, is representing drug dealers. So is there anyone this guy will not defend? Well, yes and no.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO Bruce Harvey vowed never to defend another child molester. The state had called a girl of about 8 to the witness stand. Her eyes sparkled and she was small and cuddly, save a bad case of gonorrhea. He approached her gently, setting up his cross-examination with innocuous references to Christmas and Santa Claus. But at the first mention of his client, her eyes just died, and in that one second Harvey knew that she was telling the truth. His client was guilty. “I decided right then I didn’t have the stomach to cross-examine children anymore,” he says. Nonetheless, last February, he once again found himself trying to tear apart a kid on the witness stand.
Harvey’s client is Harold Miller, a DeKalb County attorney facing child molestation charges. The alleged victim, Corey, is a 13-year-old loner from a broken home who had moved into Miller’s neighborhood and befriended his two children. Miller, who as a child had also known the sting of fatherlessness, took Corey to ball games, helped him with schoolwork and let the boy call him Dad. Now Corey says “Dad” has been molesting him for the past several months.
The allegations, however, started only after Miller caught Corey in the back yard of an empty house forcing Miller’s own 7-year-old daughter to perform oral sex. Corey was committed to the Georgia Mental Health Institute, where he admitted that had he been molesting the little girl for some time and that he also had been molesting Miller’s son. Once in court, Corey further admits he has had a history of sexual relations with his male cousin, years before he ever even met Miller.
ln a classic cross-examination, Harvey takes the standard I’m-just-asking-we’re-just-talking approach. Then for the next hour he builds momentum, seeking that self-impeaching series of yes’s and no’s by which this bat-eared boy, in his greasy brown suit and bad haircut, will hang himself.
You visited Harold’s house most every day?
You just let yourself in?
You forced Harold’s daughter into having sex?
You forced his son?
You made passes at Harold’s wife?
You had those magazines under your bed?
You had the sexually explicit calendar on your wall?
Questions posed as fact. Yes or no, kid. Case open. Case closed. Corey looks Harvey in the eyes, trying not to notice the wild braid of hair. After each answer he swivels twice in his chair.
“Kids do lie about child molestation,” Harvey had said earlier, in his office. He has literature on it. Indeed, could there be a more accommodating agent of fiction than the malleable mind of a child? It is the unsavory premise of his questioning. And at times he has to rein in the accusatory inflection—”But you suggested it?”—lest he alienate the jury.
“And your mother told you to get rid of the calendar?”
“And you told her you would?”
“And you got rid of the calendar?”
“So you lied?”
“You told the truth?”
“Corey, what is it called when you tell somebody you are going to do something and you don’t do it?”
Trapped, Corey looks away. “A lie,” he mutters.
“No more questions.”
FROM THE BEGINNING there had been a colloquy on a possible plea bargain for Eddie Lawrence. The day after Lawrence was arrested, Harvey went to Cobb County District Attorney Tom Charron and said, “Well, it looks like I’m in a pretty good position here.”
While the media was focusing public attention on Fred Tokars, Harvey and Spix made exhaustive efforts to keep prosecutors, investigators and judges focused on their client, Eddie Lawrence. Harvey and Spix filed at least 85 pretrial motions, including a motion that would bar members of Sara’s family from the trial and one to have the state flag removed from the courtroom because their client, a black man, found it offensive. Harvey’s personal favorite was “A Motion for More Justice and Less Surprise,” a humorous title disguising a very serious and successful bid for state files in the case. How could any judge refuse a motion for more justice?
The parallel benefit of such intense pretrial preparation was to strengthen Harvey’s bargaining position. With Tokars still free and Lawrence’s trial fast approaching, the more valuable Eddie’s testimony against Tokars became to Cobb County District Attorney Tom Charron. If Lawrence actually went to trial, there would be no deal. He would be Tokars’ ally, denying any involvement by either of them.
Harvey even went after the media, filing dozens of broad subpoenas for notes, outtakes, stories, videotape, and even Nielsen ratings from news organizations around the state. Harvey perceived a potential resource in the press, if he could get his hands on these materials. More importantly, the relentless media coverage was hurting his client’s chances of a fair trial. His strategy was to prove a bias in that coverage, and the logical target was former WXIA-TV reporter Dean Phillips, who had filed numerous stories from his own aggressive investigation.
Harvey wanted to question Phillips about a movie option he had signed regarding the Sara Tokars story. Though this contract was never signed by the production company, Harvey knew that the movie option had also been offered to or signed by Sara’s private investigator, Ralph Perdomo, her divorce lawyer, Steven Labovitz, and a onetime law partner of Fred Tokars, Emily Sherwinter. All three were on the state’s witness list. Harvey aimed to use Phillips to set them up with what he now says was “98 percent bluff.”
By scattering around subpoenas, Harvey had obtained data on many other “life story” offers made to the group via Perdomo. They ranged from $25,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on whether the story was adapted to a TV movie or miniseries, or to the big screen. Most tellingly, many of the deals would become more lucrative if Tokars were convicted. Phillips, however, testified that he knew nothing about the other offers, which meant that at that point, in that courtroom, those various “contracts” were still just hearsay.
But Harvey marched into court waving a few faxes he had gotten pursuant to his subpoenas. He hammered Phillips with the figures, and repeatedly called his association with Perdomo, Sherwinter, and Labovitz a “consortium,” whose private interest would be served if Tokars were convicted.
“He concentrated on what might have been if any contracts had ever materialized,” says Guy Davis, who represented Phillips in a suit against WXIA, which fired Phillips a week after the hearing. “And the media went for it, made it appear that these people were on their way to fame and fortune.”
“Dean’s lawyers just sat there on their duff at $2,000 bucks an hour and let me get all this out in front of the judge, the media, and everybody else. Dean didn’t know anything about those other contracts. Hell, I think Dean even objected himself a time or two,” says Harvey.
When it was over, the reporting did not look so objective. Suddenly, the state’s witness list was not so credible. And by discrediting witnesses who could be used against Tokars, Harvey had once again raised the value of Lawrence’s testimony. At the time, the state had investigated Tokars for nearly eight months, with no indictment.
THE MOLESTATION CASE goes to the jury on a Friday. Afterwards, Bruce heads for Manuel’s Tavern. He is a proud townie, and chases his Dewar’s on the rocks with laments over the lack of real neighborhood bars in Atlanta, just another by-product of white flight, he groans.
Manuel Maloof drags his cane and a chair up to the table. When the old barkeep and legendary politico sits down, his gut bunches up in his lap like a bullfrog’s croaking sac. Manuel has a gripe about all the new DUI laws. The cops, they just sit outside, waiting, he says. “The DUI laws are killing me!” To which Harvey replies, “Hell yes! Make everything a crime.” He knocks wood on the table.
“We love crime!” he says sarcastically, half standing to toast the thought of more laws, more criminals, more work. Harvey lives law, breathes law, retires to his Candler Park bungalow at night after a long day in court and reads law. “He really doesn’t have time for many other dimensions,” his wife, Paige, had said over the phone. “Except for the scuba diving. Oh, and his Harley,” which he got as retainer from a Hell’s Angel, a client.
Harvey believes that good criminal defense is the best way of squeezing justice from the system, one that he loathes for its blanket prejudices and biases, yet one which he embraces for its fundamental premise: that it is better to let 10 guilty people go free than to convict one innocent person. He has to be good. Lazy defenders make for lazy prosecutors. And although every prosecutor in town might complain that Bruce Harvey is rude, few will tell you he does not know the law.
Once, when he was just starting out, Harvey raised an objection in a small country courtroom, and the judge asked him, “On what authority?” Harvey knew that he was right, but he had no source, no law, no case that he could cite. He remembers feeling a tremendous guilt for this. Ever since then he has kept a black book of legal scribblings. He refers to it constantly, carries it around like some talisman of superpreparedness.
“He comes prepared, and he is always straight up about the strengths and weaknesses of our case, as well as his, which is not a characteristic of all criminal defense lawyers,” says DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan, who prosecuted Harold Miller, the DeKalb County attorney who faced molestation charges. During his closing argument, Morgan had pointed at Harvey and urged the jury not to be taken in by one of “the best criminal defense attorneys in the city.” It’s an image that Morgan sought to exploit. During the jury selection, for instance, one man stood up and said, “Well, Mr. Harvey, I have never met you. But I think you’re just a con man who tries to get guilty people off on technicalities.”
Does he think the Constitution is a technicality? Harvey would ask.
During the Miller trial Harvey had hog-tied a narcotics expert with her own report. It concerned an ounce of “green leafy material” found in Miller’s home during the GBI raid. But Harvey, who usually has a copy of High Times magazine in his briefcase, knows drug law. He especially knows that an ounce of weed has got to be an ounce of weed to be a felony. So he pursues issues of test sample size, water content, and other materials in the bag. The felony possession charge is later dropped when Harvey shows that, technically, the marijuana weighs 5 one hundredths of a gram less than an ounce.
An elderly school teacher takes the stand. She says Miller’s alleged victim, Corey, whom Miller happens to have caught forcing his 7-year-old to have oral sex, has a good reputation. Harvey tells her she really knows nothing of his reputation, just knows she has not heard anything bad about Corey. Right? In fact, the only relevant thing she knows is that Corey once lied to her when confronted about molesting Miller’s daughter and that he once called her “Honey” to her face. She sniffs out of the courtroom in a flush, her eyes crossed, soft brown bun of hair ready to explode.
“Hey, I was being nice to her,” Harvey says and swirls the ice in his scotch glass. There is an indigo star tattooed on the fourth digit of his drinking hand, a rough P.H. on the back of his other hand.
Throughout the case Harvey had also challenged the relevance of a lurid videotape seized during the raid of Harold Miller’s home. It showed Miller alone, on his couch, ravishing a vibrator. In pretrial the judge admitted the tape as evidence of Miller’s bent of mind and lustful disposition. But Harvey won an eleventh hour motion that prevented prosecutors from arguing that it corroborated any of Corey’s testimony.
Does he think his client is guilty? Of course, it does not matter what he thinks, says Harvey. Yet it is considered unethical for an attorney to put someone on the stand who he believes will perjure himself. Bruce Harvey says he will do it. He just won’t ask his client any questions on the stand, feeling that everyone at least has a right to tell “his story,” guilty or not. On this point he believes he represents a minority within the criminal defense community, but when asked if criminal defense attorneys do knowingly put guilty people on the witness stand, he says, “The question is do they not.”
Tonight, however, Harvey is in kindred company. Harvey Burgess, a former head of the ACLU in South Carolina, knocks back a Cuervo with lime and table salt and says, “The name Harvey means ‘battleworthy’… the etymology of Harvey.”
Dr. Jackie Boles, a very round and jolly sexologist from Georgia State University, joins the table. During the “Shit Happens” case in Cobb County, Bruce put her on the stand as an expert to testify that anally fixated people, those with feces-eating disorders, will never say the “s” word. Harvey also read to prospective jurors a long list of commonly accepted “s” words and phrases. She and Bruce still laugh about it.
“Ah, my unit!” says Bruce, as his wife, artist Paige Harvey, appears at tableside. He hugs her by the waist. At 48, she looks 33, and they are a striking couple. They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary in Las Vegas by renewing their vows there in the Graceland Wedding Chapel. Paige wore a hand-tailored velvet dress with Elvises painted on it. Bruce wore a black Elvis jumpsuit, complete with flowing cape. The Rev. Norm “Elvis” Jones, in double-knit white, presided over the ceremony. The reverend sang a medley of Elvis songs, and halfway through the GRACELAND wedding mantra—“G” is for the goodness in you both, “R” is for the respect—Bruce got, well, kinda choked up. Paige had hoped he would take her to Paris.
Seated at the next table is another attorney. He once prosecuted Paige after she chained herself to a tree during construction of the Presidential Parkway. She seems to forgive him, too, maybe. In fact, the tenor of the evening is to forget, because for now there is nothing else. Harvey had made his closing argument late in the day, and Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey could not send the jury into deliberation until the following week.
The only evidence besides Corey’s testimony consists of some racy magazines, a few skin flicks, and some kiddie porn that the GBI found. Miller said the latter was the residue of some Meece obscenity commission research he had done years ago in law school. It was in his bedroom closet.
But there were no eye witnesses. Just the videotape. And now the jurors have three days to consider those images. “I don’t want them to think it over,” says Harvey.
Six days later, after nearly three days of deliberation, the jury convicted Harold Miller of child molestation.
ALL ALONG BRUCE HARVEY knew what the state had on Eddie Lawrence. He and Spix had won the state’s files. But within six months of Lawrence’s arrest, their approach of pushing the state toward trial had reached the point of diminishing returns. If Lawrence were tried and convicted, he could get the electric chair.
Harvey also knew that the federal government was investigating Lawrence. If Lawrence went to trial in state court, any testimony under oath could later be used against him by federal prosecutors. If Lawrence pleaded guilty in state court to avoid the state’s death penalty, the federal government could still use that plea to strip Lawrence of his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and put him before a federal grand jury. Federal prosecutors could then piggyback that state guilt onto federal racketeering charges that would send Lawrence away for life without parole.
Harvey needed to cut a deal with the feds. He did it by refusing to negotiate any deal with Cobb County District Attorney Tom Charron that did not include a compatible federal agreement, and, again, by preparing for a trial—this time in federal court. He and Spix mounted an aggressive assault on records from the federal grand jury investigation. “We were looking for anything, corporate records, phone records… anything that would have discredited the feds’ theories on any motivation Lawrence might have.”
They subpoenaed U.S. prosecutors Joe Whitley and Buddy Parker into Cobb Superior Court. “It may not have gotten their attention,” says Spix, “but at least then they had to be represented in court before a judge. Up until then I could have called Buddy Parker up on the phone and he could have told me to go shit in my hat.”
The Cobb County judge waived ruling on exactly which of the federal files Lawrence’s team would be entitled to until consulting with federal Judge G. Ernest Tidwell. Tidwell responded that he was considering whether to turn over unspecified portions of the 30,000 pages of federal evidence in the Tokars case. Prosecutor Buddy Parker, fearing a dangerous precedent in the release of federal grand jury testimony, which is secret, was prepared to go to jail to prevent that.
As volatile as Harvey can be, it may have been his amiableness off the court that kept the ball in play. “I think it was back during the Glean case,” recalls Charron of his first encounter with Harvey. “He lost his temper and lashed out at me personally, something about my ‘lack of brains.’ But, you know, he came over and apologized to me afterwards… He’s the kind of guy who can make you want to put your fist through his face. Five minutes later he’ll have you laughing.”
Tom Charron was in court the day that Harvey was sparring with Phillips and WXIA attorneys. “After that,” says Harvey, “I don’t know, Tom just seemed real expansive. He came up to me and said something like, ‘You know, we can always get together.’ ”
Shortly thereafter, Charron called Parker. He said that he had been approached by Harvey. Parker was convinced he could make the case against Tokars, including the murder-for-hire charge, without Lawrence’s testimony. But ultimately, he would not stand in the way of the lead jurisdiction, Cobb County.
Pacing behind his office chair on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilmer “Buddy” Parker III gets agitated at suggestions that the federal government capitulated to state interests. “Is it a good deal that the federal government has made a downward departure recommendation on [Lawrence’s] sentence? Yes. Is it a good deal that they got the federal sentence to run concurrently with the state sentence? Yes,” he says. “But what came out in the paper was like the government was going to send Eddie Lawrence to Harvard. Lawrence has still pleaded guilty to the stiffest crime I could have ever charged him with.”
There is a huge photograph of Sara Tokars against one wall of Parker’s office. Her smile is as toothy and white as those of the two boys at her side, who were in the backseat of their mother’s 4Runner the night Lawrence’s hit man, Curtis Rower, blew off the back of Sara’s head with a shotgun. The boys could not ID Lawrence at the scene. Rower says he was there. Lawrence denies it.
In March Parker began prosecution of Tokars on federal racketeering charges, which included making intrastate phone calls to arrange his wife’s death. The actual murder charge, however, had been dropped. Because the federal government has capital charges only for very specific high crimes, such as assassinating the president, Parker could never have sought the death penalty for Tokars. Tom Charron, however, can and will seek the state’s death penalty for Tokars when he goes to trial for murder, at the end of this year or beginning of next year.
Bruce Harvey, incidentally, fought unsuccessfully to have Curtis Rower included in the plea agreement. But in the end, Harvey, who vehemently opposes capital punishment, had spared his client from the electric chair by making it possible that another man might die in it.
HARVEY IS SITTING in a second-story office below his own, feet propped on a colleague’s desk, talking about himself, which, unlike the night of his law class, he does not seem to mind. In fact, he has a fairly detached perspective on himself today.
He still does not know why he told all those phony stories about being in Cambodia during the Vietnam War and about playing football for N.C. State. Actually, he was a swimmer. And actually, he received a 4-F when he went for his induction physical. “The doctor’s name was Cohen, and he saw one of my tattoos, a Star of David,” which Harvey had gotten because, well, everybody else was getting crosses. “And the doctor said, ‘What’s a nice Jewish boy like you want to go into the army for?’ Right there I fell down on my knees, grabbed him by the legs and said, ‘Oh, please, doctor, don’t send me into the army.’ ”
When a 1989 Fulton County Daily Report profile revealed that Harvey had misled friends for years with stories of fighting in Cambodia and of once tackling Franco Harris, everyone ribbed him. They forgave him, but the confrontation with this little personality quirk still smarts.
“Obviously, I shouldn’t do it,” he says.
“But I know it will happen again. It’s like last week. I was in trial with Bob Andrews up in Gainesville. And he has these incredible courtroom stories. And I guarantee, one day, I’ll be wanting to make a point, and I’ll take those stories and tell them . . . ”
As if they were his own? “Yes.”
Mendacity—it seems the logical character flaw for Harvey, for someone whose word in professional matters is considered bankable, but for whom image and substance diverge as often as they combine.
“He is not as much a rebel as he pretends,” says attorney Froelich, a good friend. “He has a liberal attitude toward pot and he opposes capital punishment. But he is very conservative when it comes to violent crime and hard drug use.”
Harvey, the son of a University of Georgia professor, grew up in Athens and went to UGA law school. Former law classmate and attorney Steve Schuster remembers him mainly in that he was a rather serious-seeming loner. Harvey dropped out of law school once, passed the bar on his second try, and actually started out a country attorney in rural Habersham and Rabun counties.
The pastel shirts with monogrammed collars and onyx cuff links? The Porsche? They matter, perhaps, but they don’t mean much, except for maybe the hair, which is a Samson thing.
“I always thought why buy an $800 suit when you can get one off the rack at JC Penney for a hundred bucks. It took me a long time to accept the fact that the accoutrements make a difference. I don’t like it. That’s not the way it should be. But it is.”
It is an efficient image, really. When he has a blue-haired Buckhead matron on the jury, the dress down threads, the manicured nails and big grin put her at ease. When he has to try a case in, say, Rockdale County, the earrings come out. He even wore his spectacles during some of the Lawrence proceedings. But he can go unshaven for a day or two, light a smoke and look purely hell-bent in a leather biker jacket addressing a NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) meeting. And when he and Spix arrive at a Dateline NBC taping to discuss the Sara Tokars case, Spix’s suit is a bland contrast to Harvey’s T shirt, which screams FREEDOM AIN’T CHEAP.
But it’s not exactly cost prohibitive, either.
Contrary to speculation that Fred Tokars tried to pay Harvey $250,000 for representing Eddie Lawrence, once a month Eddie Lawrence’s father cuts Bruce Harvey a check for $1,000, which Harvey then splits with Spix. He will do so every month until he pays off Harvey’s $25,000 flat fee. That’s about two years of representation, another pretty good deal for Lawrence.
In two years the “deal of the century” will be remembered either as the deal that brought Fred Tokars to justice or as the tangled web of negotiation that collapsed in the winds of truth. During the federal racketeering trial, Eddie Lawrence was cross-examined by legendary defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook, one of Tokars’ lawyers and an idol of Harvey’s. “I just told Eddie to not get boxed into that yes or no stuff. Just go up there and tell the truth. Keep telling the truth and you can never get fucked up.”
Indeed, Lawrence seemed unshaken by Cook’s grilling, although Tokars’ attorneys later cast doubt on portions of his testimony. Harvey and Spix, however, regarded Tokars’ conviction on federal counts as a vindication of their client. But Lawrence’s role in justice is far from over. He still has to testify against Tokars in the state murder trial. He still has Curtis Rower saying he was at the scene of the crime. He still is a confessed murderer. And if at any time it turns out that Eddie Lawrence has lied about his role in that murder, then he could stay in jail for a long, long time, and the fate of Fred Tokars will become yet another story. ✦