published Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Not guilty on all 22

<strong>Jury verdict ends 5-week trial in Craft child molestation case</strong>

RINGGOLD, Ga. — A jury has said she’s not guilty and the trial that devastated her life is over, but Tonya Craft says she’ll never recover what she’s lost.

“There is not a winner. There can be restoration, and there can be awareness for others to not go through this, but there are two birthdays for my daughter that I’ll never get back,” Ms. Craft said Tuesday, fighting back the tears.

Two years after she was accused of molesting three girls, Ms. Craft said the first thing she cares about is regaining custody of her two children.

Defense attorney Scott King said he is filing a motion today in Hamilton County, asking a court to award Ms. Craft full custody of her children.

After Ms. Craft was charged in 2008 with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and sexual battery, her ex-husband, Joel Henke, filed for full custody of their children and they have lived with him since.

On Tuesday, as the Catoosa County Court Clerk’s booming voice announced the “not guilty” verdicts on all counts against her, Ms. Craft’s knees buckled. Two of her attorneys kept her from falling as she cried hysterically on their shoulders. The attorneys whisked her away under the protection of four Catoosa County sheriff’s deputies.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tonya Craft hugs Diana Ellis before leaving her parents' East Ridge home Tuesday. A jury found her innocent on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

At her parents’ home in East Ridge, Ms. Craft was greeted like a celebrity by her friends, their children and family members, all rejoicing in the verdict/

“We’re going to get our babies back,” Ms. Craft’s mother, Betty Faires, said, clasping her own hands in joy.

Ms. Craft wiped tears from her eyes as she looked at her supporters.

“The only thing that’s kept me going and fighting is my two children,” Ms. Craft said under the lights and cameras of national and local media. “And other people that are falsely accused; I’ll do anything I can to protect them from being falsely accused.”

Ms. Craft lost her job as a kindergarten teacher in Chickamauga City Schools when she was charged. On Tuesday, Chickamauga Superintendent Melody Day would not say whether the district would consider rehiring Ms. Craft.

“We can’t comment. It’s a personnel matter and that’s confidential,” she said.

But Ms. Craft said she doesn’t plan to teach again. She said she may consider going to law school.

After the news conference, Ms. Craft, her husband, David, and defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos flew to New York for an interview on NBC’s “Today Show.” Her friends and family shouted and clapped as she left.

“Thank you, Jesus,” said Diane Ellis, Ms. Craft’s friend, who has been in the courtroom each day of the trial. “Without him, it wouldn’t have happened.”

But there still are casualties. A trial that lasted more than a month — the longest recorded in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit — has torn apart friends and families.

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

PDF: Tonya Craft files a $25 million lawsuit against her accusers

PDF: Complaint by Eric Echols

PDF: Complaint by Sandra Lamb

PDF: Orders on Rule 22 Request for Media Coverage

Article: Craft custody attempt hits snag

Article: Pushing state to investigate

Article: Attorney questions Craigslist investigations

Article: Prosecutor introduces claim of Craft affair

Article: Witness: Mother of alleged victim made threat

Article: Craft trial entering third week

Article: Parents of child testify in Craft molestation trial

Article: Lead investigator testifies he didn't interview fathers

Article: Second forensic interviewer testifies in molestation trial

Article: Witness testimony recounted off camera

Article: Mother of alleged molestation victim testifies

Article: Second week of craft trial begins

Article: 2 more children testify in Craft trial

Article: First child testifies in molestation case

Article: Nurse who examined three alleged molestation victims testifies

Article: Juror dismissed in Craft trial

Article: Craft was framed, lawyer says

Article: Large jury pool in Craft trial, no jury selected

Article: Child molestation cases stirring emotions

Article: Refusal to recuse stirs legal debate

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

Article: Molestation case leads to emotional divisions

Article: Molestation trial moved to April

PDF: Tonya Craft's indictment

Three families that were close to Ms. Craft came forward with the accusations that she molested their daughters when the girls spent the night at her home.

The greatest fear of every mother, every minister, Boy Scout leader and teacher was played out in the courtroom, Mr. Lorandos told the jury in his closing statement.

“Well, if there’s no physical evidence and all it takes is a kid saying it and their parents being really upset about it, if that’s all it takes, we’re all duped,” he said.

The jury rejected the prosecutors’ argument that the children’s interviews were enough evidence to convict her. Mr. Lorandos said the girls were led through shoddy interviews and poor investigation to believe they were abused.

Now Ms. Craft says she wants to give hope to others who are treated as she has been.

“First and foremost, she wants to make sure this never happens again,” Mr. Lorandos said Tuesday evening. “She will change the way children are interviewed.”

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this article.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Do you agree with the verdict in the Tonya Craft trial?

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Verdict brings wide range of emotions

Article: Community mesmerized by trial’s events

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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rthomas145 said...

The Tanya Craft prosecutors ran for cover, their faces shielded from the prying eyes of media cameras and a wanting, deserving public. Catoosa Countians deserve, demand to hear from their public servants. Justice is not victory or defeat. It's a process. The prosecutors should know this better than all. Yet they pout like children, scatter like roaches in the light. Shame on you. You are obligated to answer to the citizenship. You didn't lose. You didn't win. Justice was done. Fulfill your obligation and address your public. Otherwise, we are the losers. RThomas

May 12, 2010 at 2:22 a.m.
Livn4life said...

My response to this entire situation and chapter of our history is PAIN. I feel pain for Mrs. Craft. Yes she has done some things many deem inappropriate in her personal life. Now the public is aware of many to the disgrace of those who tried to use them to prove she would mistreat children. But then character assassination has become all too common in our culture from politics to famous people. I espcially hurt for her children not seeing their mother for two years. How is that innocent until proven guilty? It is now another battle in her life. I feel pain for the little girls. Something may have happened but nothing in the evidence indicated in any way it merited the outrageous charges. Yet the girls were used and we do not know how much was suggestively encouraged by the type questioning used. God forbid this ever happening again on the level it occurred here to any child. Finally, I feel pain for the accusers. They were convinced something hideous occurred on some level. They were out to rectify it in serious manner. If I believed my sons had been abused, I would feel likewise. My final question is one lingering around our area; why was it two years before any of this surfaced?

May 12, 2010 at 6:52 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

There should be an investigation on the Federal level with regard to the prosecution side to this case. There are too many questions left unanswered regarding the conduct of Georgia officicals (i.e. investigators, judicial conduct, social workers, etc.). This should not be "swept under the rug" as the prosecution seemed to run for cover once the verdict was revealed.

May 12, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.
jcinga said...

Good for Mrs. Craft! I wish her luck in resuming as close to a normal life as possible. What has been stolen from her is irreplaceable. I hope she does go to law school. Maybe she'll be able to work on a prosecution team against her accusers and the government's "witch hunters", who embarrised themselves in this fiasco. As far as I have seen, this small town government operates as good as any other organized crime group in the state! We need the corrupt people out of our government, so remember that during the upcoming elections. Vote 'em all out! Once good elected officials are in place, they'll be able to run off the other crooks who aren't elected officials in our government through charges of insubordination.
Again, congrats to Mrs. Craft! I wish you well!

May 12, 2010 at 10:22 a.m.
TravelingMan said...

Let's burn the witch. Who brought the matches. This reminds me of a famous molestation trial in California back in the mid 1980's called the "Mc Martin Pre-school Trial". Those people were wrongly accused and they lost everything they had including their business. They sued both the accusers and the State and won. I hope this lady does the same thing and sues them all for everything they have. I'm sure there are a lot of lawyers that would love to take this case on a percentage.

May 12, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.
hookares said...

It takes more than an overzealous prosecution to fire up one of these witch trials.Of course election time has a way of providing the impetus for an iffy case. You need to start with somebody with a grudge against the accused, then it takes a law enforcement department peopled with very low IQ individuals who managed to get their detective status through longevity. In most cases, they should have been put out to pasture years ago. Next one needs the services of a talented child psychologist who is schooled in the art of planting hallucinations in one or more alleged victims minds. Apparently the judge permitted the jury to view the interrogation of the children, unlike many of the other cases where people were falsely accused. What needs to happen next is that any and all who were involved in this travesty should pay both financially and criminally to deter any other such bogus trials to be foisted off on the public.

May 12, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.
Tax_Payer said...

It's too bad they ruined that woman's life. Now 1/2 million in debt to defend herself from those jackals.

I feel very sorry for that woman -- destroyed, destroyed, and DESTROYED! All at the hands of whom she served.

It makes common sense to shy away from being a teacher or working with kids these days, when there are false accusers all about.

I sincerely hope Mrs. Craft sues every person, entity, and government involved in destroying her life. Basically, Tonya has a new calling -- one she can make a career out of.

May 12, 2010 at 2:26 p.m.
rolando said...

Yeah, Tax_Payer, I agree.

But guess who pays all those millions in award/lawyer fees when she wins?

Best the gov just pay her 1/2Mil in fees and let it go at that. She has been about as nationally vindicated as she will ever get, although she deserves more than that. The rest is just publicity for paying those debts. The county/judge/AJ better oughta make a plea with the lady...the only way they can go from here is down.

May 12, 2010 at 3:26 p.m.
Tahuaya said...

This is a case that never should have gone to trial and there ought to be an investigation into why it went this far and ended up costing this poor lady $500,000 to defend herself.

The D.A. ought to have to explain what happened and he ought to think about looking for another line of work.

The whole mess stinks.

May 12, 2010 at 4:01 p.m.
OldTimer1933 said...

I have seen Mrs. Craft's picture and heard of accusations against in the 'national news' several times folks might not recognize the name, but a mention the Kindergarten in Georgia teacher who was arrested for molesting little girls and they are familiar with some aspects of the case.

I wonder how many have heard of Frank Lombard, associate director of the Center for Health Policy at Duke University?

May 12, 2010 at 4:16 p.m.
sparkiehadden said...

I feel terrible for Mrs. Craft, her family and friends for having to endure this long drawn out ordeal. However, I do not feel sorry for her because she is now in a position to make a difference in her life as well as that of others. I hope she takes this opportunity to do so. My husband and I have been in disbelief of the handling of this case by the Catoosa County prosecution, the judge, the people accusing her of these heinous crimes and their co- conspiriator "Expert" witnesses. Shame on them all and thanks to the excellent media coverage we know their names and maybe they will get a taste of what Tonya has been through being tried and convicted BEFORE the trial even started. We also need to remember the children. They have been victims as well.

May 15, 2010 at 8:44 a.m.
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