RINGGOLD, Ga. -- With a soft voice, a former kindergarten teacher explained that the families who allege that she molested three girls were angry with her before the accusations arose.
Tonya Craft testified Friday that, after a birthday party in 2008, she was worried that she had made two of her friends upset by correcting their children.
After she talked with two girls -- one of whom is an alleged victim -- about being mean, Ms. Craft testified she went downstairs and told her husband, "I just ticked off two families that are very influential."
Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher, is charged with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation.
The defense rested its case Friday afternoon in Catoosa County Superior Court after Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor finished cross-examining Ms. Craft.
She ended her testimony by saying, "I didn't molest any children ... unfortunately these children are as much of a victim as I am."
For the first hour of cross-examination, Mr. Gregor asked Ms. Craft about allegations that she had affairs, touched a woman's breasts and was publicly intoxicated.
More than 10 times, Mr. Gregor also referred to a website that some of Ms. Craft's friends had created in her defense and asked her about a "conspiracy" to see her convicted. She continually reminded him that the website wasn't hers and that she didn't write what was on it.
Staff photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tonya Craft, left, holds her husband David Craft's hand as they walk toward their car after testifying in her trial at the Catoosa County Courthouse in Ringgold, Ga.
Defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos objected after Mr. Gregor asked Ms. Craft again if she believed the conspiracy theory. She had already explained that several times, Mr. Lorandos said.
"Do I need a billboard?" he asked.
"These are my shoes, but I didn't make them," Mr. Gregor replied.
In testimony earlier in the trial, prosecution witness Sherry Wilson testified that the first girl came and talked with her about Ms. Craft. On Friday, Ms. Craft said Ms. Wilson had been helping her in the classroom, but stopped after she corrected Ms. Wilson's daughter at a birthday party.
Later that same year, Ms. Craft sat down with Mr. and Mrs. Wilson to explain that one of their daughters, who was in Ms. Craft's kindergarten class, shouldn't move on to first grade.
Mr. Wilson became angry and yelled, "Somebody dropped the ball and somebody is going to pay for this," according to Ms. Craft.
"I started to cry," she testified.
Earlier in the trial, Mrs. Wilson and Chickamauga Elementary School principal Kristen Bradley, who was present at the meeting, testified that Mr. Wilson had not become angry or threatened Ms. Craft.
Ms. Craft testified Friday that she also corrected the first alleged victim at the birthday party and, afterward, the girl's mother, who was a good friend, stopped talking to her.
Throughout Ms. Craft's testimony, Mr. Lorandos guided her through a timeline of her life from 2005 to 2008, using an illustrative poster board for the jury to see.
In the indictments, the charges state the alleged incidents occurred from August 2005 to May 2008 with the first and second girls and from January 2002 to May 2008 with the third girl.
Ms. Craft said that, from the time she met the first and second girls in August 2005 until the girls stopped coming over in January 2008, the children only came to her house on a few occasions.
Earlier in the trial, prosecution witnesses testified that the girls were molested while taking baths at Ms. Craft's house. On Friday, Mr. Lorandos asked her, when children spent the night, "how many children did you bathe?"
"No children but my own," Ms. Craft said.
When Mr. Lorandos asked Ms. Craft about the weeks leading up to her arrest, she became more visibly upset.
On May 30, 2008, detectives visited her and said another parent was accusing her of inappropriately touching a child, she testified.
"They said they wanted to talk with me," she said. Her response, she said, was "let me get back to you."
After the detectives left, she testified that she called her mother and father and said, "You need to come over here right now."
When her father took her two children out for ice cream so she could sort out what was going on, it was the last time she saw her children for more than a year, she testified.
The trial continues Monday.
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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 ...