published Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Jury ponders fate of Craft

View previous stories and videos

PDF: Craft order

Video: Tonya Craft on Nightline, June 2, 2010

Video: Tonya Craft interview with Good Morning America, June 2, 2010

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PDF: Orders on Rule 22 Request for Media Coverage

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PDF: Tonya Craft’s defense attorney’s request for the judge to be dismissed from the case

Article: Attorney for Craft asks judge for recusal

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PDF: Tonya Craft's indictment

A trial that's captivated a small town for more than a month was turned over to the jury Monday afternoon.

Tonya Craft, the former teacher accused of molesting three girls and charged with 22 counts of child molestation, now awaits her fate.

The jury started deliberating Monday afternoon, but did not reach a verdict and will continue deliberation at 9 a.m. today.

The Catoosa County Superior Courtroom was packed shoulder to shoulder Monday as spectators watched both sides give their final pleas in closing arguments. Both sides asked the jury to find the truth in the case.

While the prosecutors argued that all the evidence needed to convict Ms. Craft is the girls' testimonies, the defense argued those testimonies had inconsistencies and said the children's parents led their daughters to believe that something bad had happened.

"She was guilty the day she put her hands on these little girls' private parts and she's been guilty ever since," Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt said in closing arguments.

"You must for the sake of all of us ... say this has to stop," defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos said in his statement. "She is and has always been not guilty."

Both sides were given 90 minutes in closing arguments, before Superior Court Judge Brian House read each count Ms. Craft was charged with -- six counts of aggravated child molestation, six counts of aggravated sexual battery and 10 counts of child molestation.

When Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor opened closing arguments for the state, he laid out a list of a dozen claims he called "Tonya Truths" that the defense was arguing. Each claim was typed and shown on a TV screen for the jury to see.

He highlighted the defense's arguments, saying they included "conspiracies" that local authorities and the alleged victims' families were working together to convict Ms. Craft.

In "Tonya Truth No. 4," Mr. Gregor said one of the defense's assertions is that Ms. Craft suspected the third alleged victim's stepmother of inappropriate behavior before any charges against Ms. Craft.

"(The stepmom) the real molester, like O.J. (Simpson) looking for the real killer," Mr. Gregor said to the jury. "If this a conspiracy, if this is about lies, if this is about people ... who wanted to get Tonya Craft, don't you think they could have come up with bigger, better lies?" Mr. Gregor asked.

In Mr. Lorandos' closing argument, he explained in a soft voice that he was not claiming any conspiracies.

"We don't have a conspiracy," he said. "We're devastated about what happened to these children."

  • photo
    Staff File 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.

While the state argued that the girls' testimonies convict Ms. Craft, the defense's expert witnesses testified to how easily children can be led to believe things that aren't true and how quickly concerned parents can ask the wrong kind of questions just trying to get an answer, Mr. Lorandos said.

"The kid saying and the parents being really upset by it -- if that's all it takes, we are all doomed," he said.

He pointed out how, during the testimony of Dr. Nancy Fajman, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University, she said the girls' medical exams did not show any signs of abuse.

He then told the story of what defense witnesses said happened, describing how gossip and blame played a key role in the accusations. After the alleged victims' mothers caught their children touching each other, they thought someone must have taught them and, when questioned, the girls blamed other people, he said.

"The kids started blaming each other," he said. "That's what kids do to get out of it."

After each side concluded, Judge House charged the jurors that, on each count, they had to decide if Ms. Craft was guilty beyond "a reasonable doubt."

Staff writer Adam Crisp contributed to this article.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

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 ...

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Livn4life said...

This will be an interesting outcome. The term reasonable doubt may take on a new meaning. With all the issues presented in forms they have taken in this trial, I would not be surprised to find a verdict of "guilty of something, we just don't know what." Have we in the Ringgold area learned anything about court proceedings and communities through all of this? I hope we have.

May 11, 2010 at 6:12 a.m.
OldTimer1933 said...

It is a mark of a civilized society to instinctively protect innocent children and also instinctively to presume guilt if the accuser is a child. Serious harm can be done if the child has not told the truth.

I love children but know that they see the world differently than adults and also have a limited vocabulary, often devoid of nuances and subtleties, so what they are 'describing' initially may well be exact to them, but the TRUE interpretation can come only if the adults ask the right questions.

One can only hope that the jury gets it right, but even if the right verdict is 'Not Guilty', the accusation 'bell' has been rung, and we know that you cannot 'unring' a bell.

May 11, 2010 at 8:52 a.m.
kbp said...

Good summary there!

It's so difficult to reduce all that the trial revealed into a single article. This article does well to capture the present status of the case.

About the only thing I would have added would be the fact that all accusers initially denied anything happened, that the claims of any crimes made by the accusers are ver questionable.

That highly acclaimed experts, respected across the nation by all within their field of science, attribute the change in the stories given later by those accusers to assisted memory, a result of the unprofessional interviews, counseling and parental questioning methods conducted.

May 11, 2010 at 9:09 a.m.
OldTimer1933 said...

kbp wrote "About the only thing I would have added would be the fact that all accusers initially denied anything happened"

As I remember some of the cases cited under the wikipedia link, there was a similar change from denial to accusations for the same reasons you cited -- unprofessional, or 'outcome oriented' interviews, because some one 'assumed' something 'bad' had happened.

I recall a little girl who sobbingly told her mother that a dog had attacked and bitten her. That was true -- technically -- but she failed to mention that she was bitten only after she ran over the animal (which was actually a puppy) with her bicycle.

I also recall a little girl telling her grandmother that 'Johnny' (the child's uncle but not his real name) had done something bad to her and her cousin and that she didn't want to go back to his house. After getting "Grammaw" calmed down, we learned that the 'bad' was that the girls had been very unruly and 'Johnny' had sent them to separate rooms for a while...a bit of discipline, nothing more...and both girls finally admitted it. "Grammaw" was almost ready to lynch the man based on her assumption of what 'something bad' meant.

It can really get scarey when folks jump to the wrong conclusions based on 'the truth as told by children', but it can become downright dangerous when an adult unwittingly 'coaches' the child.

May 11, 2010 at 10:33 a.m.
rolando said...

Wikipedia is not a highly reliable source of anything. Anyone can input data into its database. All information therein is automatically suspect.

Convenient, yes; accurate, no. Follow its links to the source material and contributors; you may be surprised.

May 11, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.
rolando said...

OldTimer, you are exactly right. Especially when the "adult" is part of a Child Advocacy group or an overzealous criminal investigator going in with a "hang 'em high" agenda.

May 11, 2010 at 11:24 a.m.
rolando said...

Ms Lukachick, as I have said before, you have done an outstanding job by reporting both sides of the many aspects and details of this case [including Judge House's charge to the jury]. Thank you.

May 11, 2010 at 11:27 a.m.
chunter269 said...

She is guilty, period. If this was a man with the same evidence he would be in prison by now. Find her guilty, beleive the victims (the children) and sentence her to prison and save any additional taxpayer funds.

May 11, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.
nurseforjustice said...

chunter, I believe you are definitely in a minority. Most of the people I have talked with believe she is innocent. But since we are not there to here all that was presented then it is hard to tell and we will trust the jurors to do their job. And what we do hear from the trial is very suspect of a railroading.

Maybe you know something we don't?

May 11, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

I think there is a mountain of reasonable doubt. Some of the people that presuming guilt until provent innocent would have fit right in during the Salem Witch Trial, or even as recently as Mccarthyism (they will probably have to ask an intelligent person to explain these analogies to them). If the investigation would have been handled properly in the first place, we could probably be closer to the truth by now, or at least have less reasonable doubt.

May 11, 2010 at 1:17 p.m.
renegade887 said...

Oldtimer I think your making some good points, whether Wikipedia is a credible source or not.

As for the children: Their young minds are like clay in a sense. And as far as I'm concerned, their parents and the prosecutors in this trial have used that to their advantage, and have become the unjust sculptors. The whole idea of "recovered memories" from the prosecution witnesses during testimony further proves this notion.

Now, as for guilty without a reasonable doubt, ha.. Ms. Craft is the queen of doubt.

This isn't the first travesty of this type... yes, from Senator McCarthy and the Puritan's witch trial in Salem, as Ms Craft said in HER testimony, she simply pissed off the wrong two influential families. And, in a most recent comparison, the 'desperate housewives of Catoosa county' have pinned Ms. Craft as their target.

Manipulation and coaching of innocent children in a court of law is a felony. And as the children become adults, I think their parents' actions will have much more negative affect on them than these false charges brought against Ms. Craft.

May 11, 2010 at 2:02 p.m.
vetofficer said...

As a veteran officer with 31 years experience interviewing children I would hesitate putting too much credence in children as young as these girls. Where is the physical evidence or independent testimony to support such charges!? Police records are full of child crime reports that are later determined to be unfounded. This case takes on the appearance of a witch hunt by a over zealous prosecutor. I just hope the jury gets it right.

May 11, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.
murphyred1947 said...

Does anyone remember the furor the McMartin trials caused across the nation? A "true" child molester would not have gone so many years in the "system" without someone making a previous accusation. In our "rush" to judgment to protect our children, we often trample someone who is definitely not at fault. As someone stated before, you can't un-ring a bell. Whether they convict Ms. Craft or not, she has already been found guilty by lots of people who heard the salacious accusations and figured she must be guilty if the police arrested her. Too bad they don't have to walk a mile in her shoes.

May 11, 2010 at 3 p.m.
Kay_Sieverding said...

One problem with the crime of "molestation" is that it is vague. Colorado Judge James Garrecht ruled that I molested my former neighbor Jane Bennett, a woman about 10 years older than I who has a driver's license and operates an antiques valuation business. Jane Bennett testified under oath that I had not been following her around town, that there was no offensive touching, that I hadn't called her in years. Jane Bennett was my neighbor but we never had any social interaction at all. Her husband Kevin Bennett was president of the Steamboat Springs city council. Kevin Bennett was convicted of conspiracy to sell hashish but he kept that secret when the police reported to him. I was accused of standing on the street in front of my home in the afternoon and saying to Jane Bennett "Just because your husband is the president of the city council doesn't give you the right to break the law". Judge Garrecht ruled that that was "molestation". There wasn't a jury and although Jane Bennett signed a criminal summons in the place for police officer even though she was only the city council president's wife, I wasn't arrested and there was no statement of probable cause. But criminal procedure and injunction procedure is optional in Colorado. The judge said I would never find a constitutional lawyer in Steamboat Springs CO who would go against the city i.e. Kevin Bennett. I was not told in advance that I was accused of molestation. Even though I didn't go to jail for molesting Jane Bennett, it ruined my life. Jane Bennett followed me around town and asked the police to arrest me whenever she could get near me. She filed a police report saying she followed me though a store trying to take my photo so she could prove I was within 30 feet of me and therefore I should be put in jail. She complained to the police that she saw me in my own yard and she complained to the police that she saw me in a downtown crosswalk waiting for the light to change. There was a bullet hole through our window but the police refused to investigate. Her husband found a footprint on his land that he claimed might be mine so he sent the police to the school to harass my child. I asked the city council to compare the square feet of Bennetts' buildings to the development code so that I could prove that she had financial motivation (to keep the nonconforming buildings) to drive me out of Steamboat Springs CO so that is why she and her lawyer Randall Klauzer procured the court finding that I molested Jane Bennett but the city manager wrote to the city council that they should not compare Bennetts' buildings to the ordinances because he claimed we had a "feud".

Follow the money. Who benefits from a finding of molestation? Probably the childrens' parents who will be set up for a lawsuit against the school district.

May 11, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.
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