Reagan Tokes case spurs Ohio legislation to change incarceration guidelines
05/14/2018 5:38 pm PDT
A predator lurks the streets of a college town, walking, watching and waiting until he finds the right victim.
This story ends with a murdered college student, but the events leading up to it started months, maybe even years before the tragedy.
Only minutes after 21-year-old Reagan Tokes walked out of Bodega restaurant where she worked as a waitress in Columbus, Ohio, her father knew something was wrong.
Hours earlier, Toby Tokes, who lived more than a thousand miles away, had texted his daughter.
"I didn't realize she was working. She texted me back. She said 'Dad, I can't talk right now, but I will call you when I leave tonight,'" Toby tells Crime Watch Daily.
When she didn't call, panic set in.
"I was actually frantically trying to get a hold of her that evening until about 2 in the morning," Toby said.
But Toby Tokes would never talk to his daughter Reagan again. And instead of planning her upcoming college graduation, her family would soon be planning her funeral.
"In my opinion, there's not enough justice for what happened to Reagan," said Toby.
Growing up, there was never a doubt where Reagan Tokes would go to college.
"She wanted to go to the Ohio State University. That was the only place that she wanted to go," said Reagan's mother Lisa McCrary-Tokes.
"She was admitted into the pre-med program there. She had excellent grades," said Reagan's father Toby Tokes.
The summer before Reagan started college, a job opportunity took the Tokes family from Ohio to Florida. Reagan didn't make the move with her mom, dad and sister.
"There was no point for her to move just to go right back to Ohio," said Reagan's sister Makenzie Tokes.
Despite the distance between them, Reagan remained in constant contact with her parents.
"I always considered myself very lucky that she wanted to talk to me every day," said Toby.
So the one night Reagan didn't call when she said she would, her parents were up half the night trying to reach her.
"Reagan's phone was ringing and ringing and ringing, and messages were being delivered and then about 2 in the morning it went dead," said Toby.
It was a long, restless night for the Tokes. The next morning Reagan's phone was still dead. That's when her sister Makenzie called her roommate, who said Reagan's bed was still made and her books and laptop were in her room, untouched.
"Then because then I knew for certain something was wrong," said Lisa.
The dread would only increase with a phone call to the university. Lisa learns her daughter never made it to class that morning.
"I immediately called police, but because I was not the last person to have seen her I was not allowed to file a missing-persons report," Lisa tells Crime Watch Daily. "Actually the co-workers at the restaurant had to do it."
While waiting, Makenzie took to social media and started sending out posts asking anyone who had seen her sister to please contact their family. Reagan's roommates and friends also flooded social media with her picture. News of a missing Ohio State student quickly went viral.
"Newspapers and television stations had gotten my number and started calling me," said Makenzie.
But before searches could even begin, Reagan's parents get the phone call no parent should ever have to answer.
"They found her at a metro park at about 12 noon that day," said Toby Tokes.
Reagan Tokes' nude body was found in a park about two miles from her work. The ambitious college student was shot twice in the head. A man walking through the park spotted Reagan's lifeless body.
Grove City Police Detective Rick Forney was one of the first investigators on scene.
"We did not have any idea who she was at that time," said Det. Forney.
But her identity didn't remain a mystery for long.
"As the investigation continued, we get a call from Columbus Police Department that they are taking a report from some OSU students who are reporting their friend missing that did not return home from work the previous evening," said Det. Forney.
Who would want Reagan Tokes dead? That question -- and fear -- quickly spread like wildfire through the community. Her murder was the last in a string of violent attacks near Ohio State University.
"People started wondering if her going missing was related to the other criminal incidences of people being robbed and brutalized," said Ohio State Representative Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus). "People were really scared."
In early 2017, Reagan Tokes, 21, was enjoying her last semester at the Ohio State University, a school she'd dreamed of attending her entire life.
Reagan loved her time at OSU, but she was also looking forward to her upcoming graduation. The psychology major already had big plans for life after college.
"She had her eye on an opportunity at the Cleveland Clinic to get into her degree," said Toby Tokes. "We had already talked about finding a home for her up there."
But the move from Columbus to Cleveland would never happen. On the night of February 8, 2017, after leaving her waitressing job at a local restaurant, Reagan vanished. The next day she was found shot dead in a nearby park.
"I have never seen the community so outraged at a criminal incident to the extent they were when it came to Reagan Tokes' death," said Ohio State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus).
Boggs says a string of violent robberies in her district had people terrified and wondering if it was the same attacker. Had he become emboldened by his crime spree and now started killing? Cops were also wondering the same thing. Detective Rick Forney says finding Reagan's killer was their number-one priority.
A search of the area and the park turns up no evidence.
"Her car was reported stolen as well, and we needed to recover the car to hopefully find any type of evidence that would have been inside the car," said Grove City Police Det. Rick Forney.
The next day Reagan's Acura was found on the southeast side of Columbus, about 10 miles from the park. The car yields a critical clue. Someone had clearly tried setting the vehicle on fire, unsuccessfully. Inside cops found all the evidence they'd need to make an arrest: a cigarette butt and a gas can were recovered.
Within hours detectives learned a similar gas can had been purchased at a nearby store the same night Reagan went missing. They quickly obtained a photograph of the man who bought it.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation quickly made a match with the DNA found on the cigarette butt. It belongs to Brian Lee Golsby, the same man seen in the photograph buying the gas can.
Grove City Police Lieutenant Brian Davidson says Golsby's DNA was on file for a very good reason: Golsby was a registered sex offender first arrested back in 2010.
"He actually had come up behind a female as she was exiting her vehicle and put a knife to her and he forced her to perform oral sex on him," said Lt. Davidson.
The entire assault took place in front of the woman's 2-year-old son.
"She was also pregnant," said Lt. Davidson.
Her due date was just a few weeks away when the attack occurred.
After performing oral sex on him, Brian Golsby forced the pregnant woman to drive him around town stopping at a couple of ATMs to withdraw money, and then made her drive him to her house.
"He entered her apartment, again forced her to perform oral sex on him," said Lt. Davidson. "And then he forced her to brush her teeth and to spit and everything, so that there would be no DNA. And then at the end, before he left, he stole her DVD player that was still in the box."
A tip quickly led to Golsby's arrest, and DNA provided his guilt.
"We had collected DNA from the parking lot, where the first sexual assault had taken place. We also collected some evidence from the bedroom of her apartment," said Lt. Davidson.
Fearing for her life, the life of her young son and unborn baby, the pregnant victim refused to testify against Golsby, so instead of a trial, Golsby accepted a plea deal.
"We had originally charged him with two armed robberies, three kidnappings and a rape. And he pled guilty to an armed robbery and an attempted rape," said Lt. Davidson.
Those lesser charges meant Golsby was only sentenced to six years behind bars. Turns out he was released from prison just three months before Reagan Tokes' murder.
The DNA match to Brian Golsby from the cigarette in Reagan's car was enough for cops to arrest him a second time. Det. Rick Forney had made the arrest and interrogated Brian Golsby on the previous violent rape.
"I couldn't believe it was him again," said Det. Forney.
And it was about to be deja vu for the detective.
Less than 48 hours after Reagan Tokes' body was found in a park in Grove City, Ohio, Brian Golsby was arrested.
The registered sex offender was well-known to investigators.
"You don't forget when he rapes a pregnant lady, it just doesn't happen," said Lt. Brian Davidson.
Lt. Davidson says Golsby served six years in prison after pleading guilty to armed robbery and attempted rape. He likely would've received a longer sentence, but the pregnant rape victim wouldn't testify in court.
Cops now felt he was capable of murder. Golsby was arrested, having only been out of prison for three months. He was living in a court-ordered group home.
Det. Rick Forney interrogated Golsby following the rape of the pregnant woman. Seven years later he's sitting directly across the table from the convicted sex offender again.
Much of the evidence is in a folder sitting right in front of Golsby, and it's making him very nervous.
"How did y'all even know to look for me?"
"DNA from your file."
"Yes. Telling the truth. You left a cigarette butt in there."
Right away Brian Golsby admits he was in Reagan's car the night she was killed.
"What was her reaction when you got in the car with her?"
"She was asking me what I wanted."
"OK, and you told her you wanted what?"
Because she didn't have any cash on her, Golsby says he forced Reagan to drive to several ATMs attempting to make withdrawals. Cops already knew -- they had the ATM receipts and photos from the banks.
"The video was very poor but you could see somebody in the background, in the passenger seat of Reagan's car," said Det. Forney.
What Golsby didn't know is that cops couldn't clearly make out if it was him in the photos, but they continue to shake him for information.
"You were pointing a gun at her in the car."
"I don't have a gun."
"Then what was it that looked like a gun?"
"I don't have anything that looks like a gun at all."
"How did you get in her car?"
"Nothing. I just opened the door. She opened the door."
"No way. No way. No [----] way man."
If he didn't have a gun, as he claims, detectives ask what kept Reagan from simply running away.
"I said all I wanted is the money and everything will be all right."
Golsby first claims after getting $60 from the ATM, he forces Reagan to drive to the park. Once there he orders her out of the car, makes her undress, then leaves her in the field. He denies having sex with her at all.
But if she wasn't sexually assaulted, why make her undress?
"I had to get her naked so she wouldn't be able to go nowhere."
"But you left her out there in the cold, naked. You don't see how [----] up that is?"
That's when detectives tell Golsby that DNA found on Reagan's body is being tested.
"Is any of your DNA gonna be on any three of those spots?"
Golsby insists he didn't sexually assault Reagan Tokes -- and he didn't kill her.
"Explain to us how she got shot in the head."
"How do you want me to explain that?"
"When's the last time you shot a gun?"
"I've never shot a gun."
That's when detectives leave the room to devise a new strategy. After a couple minutes, one returns and insists Golsby must've had an accomplice. The suggestion that someone else may have been involved was suddenly very appealing, and Golsby's story quickly takes a dramatic turn.
"My kids are gonna die, dude. My [----] family."
"Your kids aren't going to die. We can look out for them."
"[Crying.] I didn't do it man."
Golsby now claims a man named "T.J." had been demanding money from him. He says if he didn't come up with the cash, T.J. would harm his kids.
"Whose idea was it to go get the girl?"
"It wasn't to specifically get a specific person."
"It was to get money?"
Golsby tells detectives after he abducted and robbed Reagan, he thought they'd let her go -- but then T.J. forced him to rape her at gunpoint. Golsby claims he was as terrified as Reagan herself.
"I wanted to just run and call the cops, for real. I could have, but at the same time I didn't want to put my babies in jeopardy."
After getting to the park, he says, T.J. made Reagan undress. Then he shot her twice in the head.
"I'm like 'What are you doing bro? You said you were going to let her go.' He's like 'Bro, shut the [----] up."
The detective pretends to believe every bit of Golsby's story.
"I believe you. You're gonna help me find T.J."
But in fact they already knew he was lying -- there was no T.J. It was all a ruse to get more information out of him -- and it worked. Because Golsby thought cops bought his accomplice story, he pointed them right to all of the evidence.
"Where's her clothes at?"
"They're in the alley at Atwood. .... He threw her phone."
"Where'd he throw it?"
"At some bushes."
He even pointed them right to the murder weapon.
"The gun was inside of a storm sewer," said Det. Forney. "We found two spent casings inside another sewer grate."
Detectives now had plenty of evidence linking Brian Golsby to the murder of Reagan Tokes, and they were about to have even more, compliments of something he was wearing at the time of his arrest.
"He did have a GPS ankle monitor on him," said Det. Forney.
At the time of Reagan Tokes' murder, Brian Golsby was wearing a court-ordered GPS ankle monitor because of a prior violent offense.
Brian Golsby's ankle monitor "pinged" his location every minute. However, no one was keeping track of the pings.
"What's the point of electronic monitoring unless you're going to be able to detect conduct that isn't appropriate based on his terms?" said Ohio State Senator Kevin Bacon (R-Westerville).
If someone had been keeping tabs on Golsby's ankle monitor, they might have known he regularly missed curfew, a parole violation that would've sent him back to prison.
"What good is it after the fact?" said Reagan's mother Lisa McCrary-Tokes. "And what kind of a message are you sending to a violent felon who was released if they know they're wearing an ankle monitor, and they break the rules associated to that, and nothing happens?"
Even more egregious, pings from Golsby's ankle monitor placed him at the exact location of several violent robberies near the Ohio State University campus in the weeks leading up to Reagan Tokes' murder. But no one noticed.
"And if the parole people were putting two and two together they could have seen that and perhaps arrested him," said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.
Instead, on the night of February 8, 2017, Brian Golsby is seen getting on and off city buses in a busy part of town not far from the campus of Ohio State University.
"This man was trolling the neighborhood looking for a victim," said O'Brien.
At 7:49 p.m., he gets off the bus for the last time.
"He was just walking up and down streets in The Short North area, which has a lot of restaurants, a lot of bars, a lot of nightlife," said O'Brien.
Shortly after 9 p.m., Reagan Tokes leaves the Bodega restaurant where she worked as a waitress. Walking to her car, their paths cross.
"The GPS placed him right where she parked her car," said O'Brien.
By his own admission, Golsby forces Reagan into her car and they drive to an ATM. At 10:04 p.m., an attempt to withdraw $500 is declined. They then go to another ATM, and again the transaction is declined.
"After that they went to an alley where they were stationary for about 12 minutes, and that's where we believe that she was raped," said Det. Rick Forney.
At 10:32 p.m., they return to the first ATM, and Reagan withdraws $60.
"They leave that area, they drive around and return back to the Bodega bar, where they are there for a few minutes," said Det. Forney.
Golsby tells cops he returned to pick up some of his belongings that he'd stashed in an alley.
After driving around a bit more, cops say, it appears the two were heading to the park where Reagan's body was found, when they suddenly make a U-turn. They head to a gas station.
"The video there is very poor again and you can see someone getting out and pumping gas into the car," said Forney.
At 11:43 p.m., Reagan's car pulls out of the gas station parking lot. Her next stop would be her last. According to Golsby's ankle monitor, they drive to that nearby park. He's there for only three minutes.
Det. Forney tells us what investigators believe happened in the park.
"Those three minutes he made her take off all her clothes, marched her out to the field, shot her in the back of the head," said Det. Forney. "It was terrible. He said that one of her last words, she told him 'I just want to live.'"
After leaving the park, Golsby is seen on security video at 12:18 buying a gas can at a Speedway gas station. The same gas can was found in Reagan's car two days later just a few blocks from the group home where Golsby lived.
During his interrogation, Golsby admits he tried burning the car. It was a most fortunate failure. If the car had caught fire, the cigarette butt that led to his arrest likely would have never been found.
"He is not a very good arsonist," said Ron O'Brien.
Brian Golsby ultimately stood trial on nine counts, including aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and rape.
Golsby didn't take the stand in his own defense. But video of his interrogation was played for the jurors, in which he claims someone named "T.J." killed Reagan.
"He shoots her in the back of the head the first time. She falls. He shot her again when she landed on the ground. That's the first time I've ever seen somebody get killed in my whole [----] life."
However, three witnesses testified that Golsby told them he did have a gun the night Reagan was abducted. And the most damning testimony of the trial came from Golsby's girlfriend.
Prosecutor Ron O'Brien reminds the jury what she said:
"He finally told [----], who's the mother of his child, who was visiting him in the jail, that 'I did it. I killed that girl for her money.' Sixty dollars," said O'Brien.
Golsby's girlfriend also told jurors that on the night of the murder, Golsby gave her the $60 he stole from Reagan, along with Reagan's Kate Spade purse as a Valentine's Day gift.
Det. Forney says at the time, Golsby's girlfriend had no idea where the purse came from.
"She asked him 'Why are you giving me a purse, it looked like it has been used.' And he said that's just how he wanted to give it to her," said Forney.
With mounds of evidence against Brian Golsby in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Reagan Tokes, it only took five hours for jurors to reach their verdict. And it was unanimous.
In the end, no one bought Golsby's claim that someone else killed Reagan. Golsby was convicted on all charges. One week later the penalty phase of the trial began.
"If there was ever a case that deserved the death penalty, I felt this was the one," said Lt. Brian Davidson.
Before jurors decided between life and death, Golsby addressed the court for the first time and confessed to the killing.
"Today I would like to apologize to the Tokes family for the crime that I committed against your daughter. When I first got locked up I lied about everything, I said there was a 'T.J.,' there is no T.J. T.J. is not real, I made T.J. up because I was trying to wiggle my way out of the crime that I committed," Golsby said in court.
With Reagan Tokes' parents looking on, he then asked jurors to spare his life -- something he had refused to do for Reagan.
"The only other thing I have to say is, Please have mercy on me," said Golsby.
In the end, the jury did show Brian Golsby mercy.
"Life imprisonment without parole," the judge said.
And Reagan's family erupts in tears.
The two jurors who voted against the death penalty told prosecutors they were swayed after hearing about his childhood.
Were you disappointed that he didn't get the death penalty?
"I won't say I was disappointed, because that's not the kind of people we are," said Toby Tokes. "I can tell you I would have voted for it if I was sitting on that jury."
In addition to the life sentence for killing Reagan Tokes, Golsby also received 66 years for a string of other violent robberies in the weeks prior to her death.
"He ended up being charged with each of those robberies and pled guilty to those robberies after the homicide trial," said prosecutor Ron O'Brien.
The same GPS ankle monitor that helped convict him of Reagan's murder also tied him to the attacks.
"It placed him at the precise location of the street robberies," said O'Brien.
But that was little consolation to the Tokes family.
"It's Reagan that lost the most, obviously, her life," said Toby Tokes. "She paid the ultimate price because the state of Ohio failed to properly monitor and control a very violent offender wearing a GPS bracelet."
"My daughter could still be alive had it been monitored in real time, because he should have been back in prison," said Lisa McCrary-Tokes.
The Tokes decided to turn their outrage into action. Toby and Lisa are leading the movement to change existing laws in Ohio.
"Innocent victims are losing their lives because of the laws as they currently exist," said Lisa.
One of the key components of the legislation allows for indeterminate sentences for violent offenders.
"When Brian Golsby was in prison, he was a terrible inmate. Violation after violation after violation, over six years," said Ohio State Senator Kevin Bacon (R-Westerville).
Fifty-two serious infractions in all. If the Reagan Tokes Act passes, prisoners who misbehave while locked up could get their sentence extended up to one and a half times.
"The data and evidence has found that the indefinite sentencing worked to actually help rehabilitate these offenders because they are more incentivized to participate in programming and to not face longer prison terms," said Ohio State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus).
Prosecutor Ron O'Brien says that alone could've saved Reagan's life.
"He did six years on the attempted rape and robbery. That sentence would have been six to nine under the proposal that passed the Senate, and very likely, given his misconduct in prison, he wouldn't have been released in November of '16," said O'Brien.
Another key piece of the legislation involves more effective monitoring of ex-convicts wearing required GPS ankle monitors.
The Reagan Tokes Act would require real-time monitoring.
"This is 2018, the technology exists," said Lisa.
The bill also requires reducing caseloads for parole officers, something that would likely cost taxpayers more money.
"I don't think you can put a price on public safety," said Ohio State Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Upper Arlington). "This is about doing the right thing and protecting the people. If it costs money, we need to allocate the money to do it."
Do you have community support for this?
"Absolutely," said Hughes.
"Overwhelming," said Boggs.
That's because everyone in Ohio has been moved by Reagan Tokes' story -- especially the investigators who worked so hard to bring her killer to justice.
On what was supposed to be Reagan's graduation day, her family accepted her Bachelor of Arts degree for her on stage.
If passed, the new law would dramatically change how violent felons are sentenced and how they are released.
As for the GPS monitoring changes Reagan's family is fighting for, that issue is still being debated.
UPDATE May 22, 2018: The Toledo Blade reports the housing program where Brian Golsby was sent after his release from prison has been dismissed as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit by the Ohio Court of Claims.
NISRE Inc., a non-profit, faith-based organization that operates a housing program for recently released inmates from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, was named in the suit against the state brought by Reagan Tokes' family, claiming its failure to properly monitor Brian Lee Golsby played a role in Tokes' death. The lawsuit remains.
Magistrate Anderson M. Renick reasoned that only state agencies and "instrumentalities" may be sued in the Court of Claims for damages, the Blade reports.