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."
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.
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 ...