Tuesday, it will have been a year since Statesboro gained national attention for a hostage standoff where a couple believed to have explosives held an attorney against his will in his own Courtland Street office.
Law enforcement blocked city streets and evacuated buildings while media, including representatives from national networks, crowded East Main Street in front of the Statesboro City Hall, waiting for information.
Inside the law offices, Savannah attorney Michael Hostilo sat restrained by duct tape while Robbie Brower, 44, and his wife Connie Czako Brower, 45, threatened him and made demands to police for “justice.”
The reason behind the incident, according to Robbie Brower, was to draw attention to his efforts to overturn a conviction 11 years ago in a hammer attack case in Chatham County. Brower has claimed innocence in the attack although he took an Alford plea, which means he was not admitting guilt but was aware evidence could convict him.
Brower claimed Hostilo, who represented him in the case, gave poor service. When repeated letter campaigns to local and state officials, as well as a hunger strike and protest held on the Chatham County Courthouse steps several years ago did not get results, Brower planned the hostage incident, he said.
He said the 1995 conviction caused him to lose chance of custody and contact with his daughter, and told the Statesboro Herald through letters and a jailhouse interview he wants people, especially his estranged daughter, to know he was wrongly convicted of the crime.
And he was willing to commit a crime, he said, to shine light on the decade-old case.
The morning of Jan. 16, 2006, he and his wife entered Hostilo’s office and temporarily held two employees against their will, as well as Hostilo. They released the employees, but kept the attorney hostage.
The Browers held Hostilo in the office for over 24 hours while negotiators tried to convince them to let him go. Law enforcement officials cordoned off several city blocks as they waited. Negotiators kept in contact with the Browers throughout the day, providing them with food, which they asked for, and listening to demands for “justice,” Statesboro Police Chief Stan York said.
Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, negotiators finally convinced the two suspects to release Hostilo and give themselves up. However, shots fired during the initial surrender caused the two to hole back up. They surrendered three hours later, with Hostilo unharmed.
City on hold
While the dramatic scenario unfolded, life came to a standstill in the heart of Statesboro. Businesses were closed, streets were blocked off, and everyone waited with bated breath to see what would happen next.
Most business owners were only inconvenienced in regards to their businesses, but Dewayne and Lori Grice live in an apartment above her photography studio. “We had to stay somewhere else,” she said.
Law enforcement snipers used their roof for a while, but the Grices did not mind giving up their home in the name of safety. “We have nothing but praise for all law enforcement involved,” she said. “They did a stellar job.”
Statesboro Police were aided by Bulloch County Sheriff’s deputies, Georgia State Patrol troopers, Georgia Southern University police, Savannah-Chatham County police, and several other officers from other public safety agencies.
“It could have been a much worse scenario,” Grice said. They did have some interruption in business, but they called clients and met them elsewhere for photographing sessions off site.
Barry Turner remembered having to close his shop, Go Fish, for the two days.
He opened up that morning just to have an officer come by and tell him he had to evacuate. “The officer told us we had to close, but we didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
In spite of losing two days’ sales, the excitement and drama of the situation, although for negative reasons, was interesting, he said.
“It was generally interesting that Statesboro was on national news, even though it wasn’t that great a reason,” he said. Seeing national media representatives standing in the city streets was unique.
Turner said the day seems like “it was years ago instead of a year. You see stuff like that all the time, but you don’t think that would happen in your home town.”
“At first, we didn’t even know what was going on,” Grice said. An employee noticed the police outside, but they thought the officers were preparing for the Martin Luther King Day parade, which was postponed due to the hostage situation.
“But then, we said it seemed like a lot more (officers) than normal,” she said.
When they discovered the reason for police saturating the area, “we were surprised,” she said. “You don’t expect things like that to happen here.”
Trial coming up
Jury selection for the trial of Robbie and Connie Brower is set for Monday, Jan. 22, with the trial to follow, according to records from the clerk of courts office.
Each of them are charged with four counts of kidnapping, a charge of aggravated assault, two counts of possession of a hoax device, two counts of terroristic threats and acts, and possession of a weapon during commission of felonies.
Robbie Brower is also charged with two counts of possession of a hoax device by a convicted felon. The alleged “explosives” police initially thought may have been bombs were actually homemade devices crafted from fireworks, or “pyrotechnics,” York said in previous reports.
As he and his wife held Hostilo in the Courtland Street office, law enforcement set up a command center in the Averitt Arts Center. Statesboro Herald reporters gave national media networks regular updates by cell phone, including interviews with Greta Von Susteren and Wolf Blitzer. Representatives of national networks mingled with cameramen, local media and a host of interested citizens on the streets outside the Statesboro City Hall, waiting for information throughout the 24-hour ordeal. City officials held occasional press conferences throughout the incident.
American Red Cross volunteers set up a station, keeping law enforcement officials provided with food through local donations.
After his arrest and subsequent incarceration, Brower resumed his letter-writing campaign, sending several letters to the Statesboro Herald listing reasons for his actions, protesting jail conditions, asking for he and his wife to be released and announcing a hunger strike just over a month after his arrest.
Bulloch County Jail officials reported Brower did refrain from eating solid food for a while, but drank milk several times daily. He eventually resumed eating meals, said Capt. Johnny Griner.
In an interview with the Statesboro Herald conducted through the regular visitation process, Brower said “I don’t mind paying for it (the kidnapping/hostage situation). I know I will have to pay, but as long as I get my name cleared (of the 1995 hammer attack conviction) it will be worth it.”
Hostilo was not immediately available for comment this week. A call to his Savannah office resulted in a message stating he would be out of the country until Tuesday.
Hostilo has not agreed to speak to the Herald in the past, but in a televised interview on Larry King Live, he told King details about the ordeal. He said just before Brower surrendered, he flipped a coin to determine whether he would give up his ploy for attention.
A man who worked with Brower briefly before the incident, Tommy Smith, told the Statesboro Herald the Browers had been staying at the Budget Inn, about a block from Hostilo’s office, before the standoff.
According to the Georgia Department of Corrections web site (www.dcor.state.ga.us), Brower has served at least five state prison terms in Georgia, with the most recent charges including aggravated assault.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.