Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Tonya Craft leaves the Catoosa County Courthouse in Ringgold Ga., Monday evening with her entourage after jury selection for her trial for molestation charges.
Several hundred potential jurors squeezed into the Catoosa County Superior Courtroom on Monday for the trial of a former teacher charged with child molestation.
By the afternoon, the prosecution still was questioning more than 200 potential jurors for the trial of former Chickamauga, Ga., kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft, said Lt. Rodney Guffey of the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office.
One courthouse staff member said about 500 jurors originally were pooled for the trial -- an unusually large amount for a case. Because of the gag order issued by Superior Court Judge Brian House, the staff member asked not to be named.
* On Feb. 11 and March 2, Ms. Craft's defense attorneys filed motions to have Superior Court Judge Brian House recuse himself from the case since he acted as the attorney for Ms. Craft's former husband in their 1998 divorce.
* On March 4, Judge House issued a gag order on the trial after defendant Tonya Craft appeared on a television interview.
The large jury pool could be a reaction to potential bias in the jury pool with a well-known case such as Ms. Craft's, the staff member said.
Ms. Craft faces 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation and child molestation involving three children.
Neither the prosecution nor Ms. Craft's attorneys could comment on the case because of the gag order.
Roll call began at 9 a.m. Monday, but no jury was finalized by the end of the first day. Jury selection will continue today.
"Jury selection may be finished by (this) evening," Lt. Guffey said.
Only jurors were allowed in the courthouse under Judge House's order, and even members of the media were barred from entering during jury selection.
Judge House also barred cell phones and recorders from the courtroom.
Since Ms. Craft was charged on June 11, 2008, she has maintained her innocence. In a local television interview, she said she has lost her job, home and custody of her two children since the charges were filed.
Ms. Craft has many supporters who have vouched for her and several said they would be present at the trial after the jury was selected.
"I think it would be nice for her to see a friendly face in the crowd to feel like she has support," said Kellie Graham, an acquaintance of Ms. Craft's who also held a fundraiser to show support for her.
Continue reading by following these links to related stories:
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...