“I just killed your lawyer.”
Bartow County resident Walter Radford made that chilling confession to his newly divorced ex-wife on Wednesday shortly after 1:30 p.m., said Cartersville Police Major Jeff Dalman.
Radford told his ex-wife, Cindy, during the call that he also intended to kill himself, Dalman said. Cindy Radford had just appeared with her divorce attorney, Antonio Mari, to receive a final divorce decree in Bartow County Superior Court earlier in the day.
Cindy Radford called 911, and Cartersville police arrived at Mari’s downtown law office minutes later. Mari was dead after suffering multiple gunshot wounds, Bartow County Coroner Joel Guyton said.
Mari’s body was found between the front office and a conference room, Guyton said. No one else was at the office at the time of the shooting, he said. Mari had a solo general law practice.
Less than an hour later, Cartersville police and Bartow County sheriff’s deputies tracked a late-model Ford pickup truck belonging to Walter Radford to a residence where Cindy Radford was living with the couple’s two children, Guyton said. It was about 10 miles away from Mari’s law office.
There, officers found Walter Radford dead in his ex-wife’s bed from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, Dalman said. Neither Radford’s ex-wife or the couple’s children were home.
Neighbors reported hearing a gunshot before police arrived, Dalman said.
Guyton said a .40-caliber Glock pistol used to shoot Mari was recovered at the home.
Mari had already begun to fear Walter Radford before his death Wednesday, said Cartersville attorney Tony Perrotta, a partner at Perrotta Lamb & Johnson, who rented space to Mari after he earned his law degree in 2009.
Mari was a high school history teacher at Cass High School in Bartow County, Perrotta recalled. “He came to the law as a second career.”
Mari earned his J.D. from Atlanta’s John Marshall School of Law in 2009, the same year he became a member of the State Bar of Georgia.
Perrotta took Mari under his wing, giving him standard forms for cases and meeting with him on an almost daily basis during the first year or two Mari practiced law. “I taught him everything I knew that he needed to know,” Perrotta said.
Perrotta said Mari pulled him aside during a calendar call at the Bartow County Courthouse Wednesday.
“He said he was afraid of one of his client’s husbands,” Perrotta said. “He said he thought he was dangerous and was legitimately mentally ill. He said it was not the kind of thing we deal with on a regular basis. This was not just some pro se husband. He said this guy was legitimately dangerous. He said he had bought a gun that he kept in his office.”
Perrotta said he told Mari there have been guns in his law office for at least two decades. Perrotta said the possibility of violence directed at lawyers is “particularly a problem” in family law.
“People just don’t get that emotional in bankruptcies and contract cases. I think emotions run very high in family law. I think we have all been threatened or felt threatened at one time or another.”
Indeed, Radford had posted several scowling photos on his Facebook page, leading one friend to observe two weeks ago: “You look like you’re going to kill someone. Smile buddy.”
Perrotta said that, despite Mari’s misgivings Wednesday morning, he completed the divorce for his client. Perrotta said her estranged husband never showed up.
“It was a 10-minute hearing in front of one of our visiting judges,” Perrotta said. “Antonio obtained the divorce, obtained possession of the house and obtained custody of the children,” who could only see their father if the visits were supervised.
“Antonio either had the order prepared or went back [to his office] and prepared the order immediately,” Perrotta said. By noon, the visiting judge had signed it, and the Radford divorce was final. Then Mari went back to his office.
Mari was married but had no children, Perrotta said.
“He was just the kindest most gentle soul,” Perrotta recalled. “Of all the aggressive litigators we have in town, myself included, he would have been the last person that would have made anybody angry. He was always a complete and polite gentleman in court, whether it was to his opposing parties or his opposing counsel. I have never in the 10 years known him to raise his voice or get upset. He was just as calm as he could be.”
Mari’s death has rattled the Bartow County Bar Association, Perrotta said. Perrotta added he, his partners and staff had a meeting Thursday morning after the shooting to discuss possible security measures.
“There is nothing you can do,” Perrotta said. “You can install metal detectors and a full-time security guard at the front door. But that’s just not going to happen.”
Perrotta said that Bartow County bar members have decided to meet in Mari’s office next week and divide up his cases. “Everybody has volunteered to take whatever they need to take,” he said.
The bar association has also started a fund to pay for Mari’s funeral. Any leftover funds will be given to Mari’s wife, Stephanie, Perrotta said.
“We genuinely love and respect each other as lawyers,” Perrotta said. Mari’s death “has just hit everybody just terribly hard.”
Cartersville attorney and former State Bar of Georgia President Lester Tate said Wednesday night that Mari was “just the nicest guy ever.” Tate added that Mari taught his paralegal’s son.
In a tribute to Mari on Facebook, Tate said Radford “was, by all accounts, an unrepresented opposing party in a divorce case.”
Mari “was a great credit to the legal profession, a former high school teacher, and as fine a human being as anyone could imagine,” Lester said.
Tate recalled that he recently sat and chatted with Mari as they awaited a calendar call.
“It’s hard to imagine his life prematurely snuffed out in such a senseless fashion,” Tate said. “The practice of law is a high calling and, lest we forget, a sometimes dangerous one. Tonight, I ask you prayers for the family of this man who worked for justice, for my brothers and sisters at the bar, and for all of those in our legal community.”