There's a reason why Louis Stowers is nicknamed "Stump." As a young football player new to the game, Stowers followed his coach's exact orders. He stopped anyone who came directly at him; no more and no less, even as the other team dashed around him.
"The coach screamed, ‘You don't have to stand there like a stump! You can run out there and make a tackle!'" Stowers
recalled. "But that's what they told me to do and I didn't move."
The name stuck. So did his firmness.
Hall County prosecutors told Stowers more than a week ago the case against the woman accused of trying to kill him was being dismissed. Their reason: Science contradicted the indictment alleging what and who caused his serious illness.
But Stowers is holding onto what doctors first told him: Arsenic is to blame.
He is not swayed by recently discovered evidence that led to Stephanie Brooks' dismissal more than two years after a grand jury charged Stowers' ex-wife with criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated battery and aggravated assault.
"I know what happened," Stowers said. "She's gone and I'm better."
Brooks' family is just as passionate in their support of the woman whom they say was victimized in Hall County.
The three-year legal saga resulted in Brooks' being jailed, divorced and fired from her job, public defender Brett M. Willis said following the dismissal.
Her sister, Deborah Brooks Simpson, elaborated on the fallout and its impact on her family.
"It has altered all of our lives in such a way that we are compelled to not allow anything to be swept quietly under any rug if humanly possible," Simpson said.
DA ‘unable to prove' case
The case against Brooks ended when District Attorney Lee Darragh submitted what's called a nolle prosequi, a legal term meaning dismissal after indictment, on Dec. 20. In the document, signed by Superior Court Judge Kathlene F. Gosselin, Darragh said, "the State believes we are unable to prove that the Defendant poisoned the victim as alleged in the indictment."
His reasoning hinged on a scientific test neither defense attorneys, nor prosecutors knew existed until nearly four months ago.
Investigators first focused on Brooks as a suspect after doctors said arsenic poising caused Stowers' serious illness, and major organ shut down, in October 2007. Lab tests at the time confirmed as much.
But what those test results did not do was specify the type of arsenic found in his system. Another series of tests conducted at the same time did break down the results.
The arsenic found in Stowers was classified as organic and nontoxic, meaning it did not cause his sickness, case lawyers agreed.
"This case was nolle prosequi'd (dismissed after indictment) because credible scientific evidence that had not been available until late in the prosecution came to the State's attention," Darragh explained this week. "It is a scientific fact that Mr. Louis Stowers was not suffering from inorganic arsenic poisoning."
Medical experts consulted on both sides recently expressed the same opinion about the test results.
Yet, Darragh understands why Stowers' family is dissatisfied despite the proof. Prosecutors prepared the family for a spring trial.
"We as prosecutors in the case were also disappointed in that result, and regret having to nolle prosequi the matter," Darragh said. "However, it was the responsible and correct action to take under the circumstances. We are fully committed to justice for all victims of crime, but where a case cannot be proven based on credible evidence received, regardless of when it is received, we should not go forward."
Stowers was told of the district attorney's decision before the dismissal. And he was encouraged to contact his family members who may want to meet with prosecutors to better understand why, Darragh said.
But the invitation seems too late for Stowers' daughter Jessica, a witness prepped for Brooks' trial.
"With the whole thing, I feel like she got off," Jessica Stowers said. "We really thought they had a pretty good case, and I feel like the DA just basically let her go."
What haunts Jessica Stowers is the image of her father before and after his hospitalization. He struggles physically in ways he never did, she said, as he continues to operate his chicken farm near Lula.
If not arsenic, then what was it? Jessica Stowers wonders.
"My fiance and I have talked about looking at an alternative way to figure out what happened," she said. "Who missed the buck on this? Who knows what really what happened?"
Ironically, Brooks' family shares a sense of disbelief and rage about the chain of events.
How could such pivotal test results, conducted at the same time as the ones used to build the case against Brooks, been unknown for so long?
Her sister credited the public defender's office that found the results and condemned the prosecution's pursuit.
"It is unforgiveable how damaging this careless act of Hall County has been on Ms. Brooks and her family who has remained strong by her side even though we were advised to remain quiet during the process," Simpson said. "Now we the family feel overwhelmingly compelled to be the voice of the victim in this case, our sister Stephanie Brooks."
Rebuilding his life
Stowers today said he is focused on his health and rebuilding his life.
Part of that process is piecing together memories of 2007, a year he speaks of like it is lost in a fog. He cannot account for certain funds, doesn't remember hawking his truck, and hardly recalls long-distance trips taken with Brooks that could have changed his life.
"I went to Dallas, Texas, twice but don't remember it, only vaguely," Stowers said, "it was about adopting a kids."
He replays events and conversations that may have come out if had the chance to testify.
"In my heart, I know," Stowers said. "It's like the old saying around the farm, ‘the hen always cackles when it lays an egg.'"
While he links his weak heart today to the 2007 illness, the life episode Stowers calls "bizarre" did not effect is Stowers' ability to love.
He is happily married, again.
"People say that was real brave," Stowers said, of his fourth betrothal, this one to longtime acquaintance Beth. "I can't believe it either. But I do all the cooking and fixing of the food now ... I've never been so happy in my life."
What Stowers also believes, however, is his survival ruined the court case he waited three years to witness.
"They would've had a better case if I were dead," he said.