published Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Craft trial may affect future victims

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    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.

A highly publicized child molestation trial and weeks of acrimonious court proceedings could deter parents from bringing suspected abuse cases forward in the future, local officials said.

"I do have a concern about children that are victimized and the families coming forward in the future," Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said. "Will they be willing to take a chance that their child will be put through the same scrutiny and the same process that we've just seen?"

A five-week trial that captivated a small community and divided families ended May 11 when a jury found Tonya Craft, a former Chickamauga schoolteacher, not guilty on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

Lookout Mountain Judicial District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin said the way Ms. Craft's defense team portrayed the families of the alleged victims in court could cause people to think they will be treated similairly and to shy away from reporting an incident.

After the verdict, defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos accused the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit of judicial misconduct during the trial and poorly conducted interviews with the children.

"We need to make sure that this never happens again," Dr. Lorandos said. "Sloppy interviews. Corrupt judicial process. Ridiculous last-minute falsified, fraudulent evidence. Terrible interviews with children. Ridiculous rulings on evidence."

Some media outlets, Mr. Franklin said, were biased toward the defense and portrayed the accusers in a negative way.

"This will result in child victims and their supportive family members refusing to come forward for fear of a similar portrayal in the public," he said in a statement faxed to media outlets May 14.

But a psychology professor who specializes in violence and victimization of children said those fears might be unwarranted.

All the publicity in a high-profile child molestation trial actually makes the public more informed about the judicial process and could help increase cases reported, said Sherry Hamby, who teaches at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

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

"No matter what the outcome, research has shown it could actually increase help seeking," Dr. Hamby said.

Local authorities, believing the prosecution presented a strong case, said they were disappointed with the verdict. Chris Arnt and Len Gregor, the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted Ms. Craft, have declined to talk to the Chattanooga Times Free Press since the trial ended.

However, Mr. Franklin, in his faxed statement, blamed media reports for the outcome.

Trial coverage "created an environment hostile to the State's ability to receive a fair trial and portrayed the victims and their families in a false and negative light," he said in the statement.

It's a common reaction to blame the media in cases like Ms. Craft's, said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"Whichever side loses a high-profile case ... one of their favorite scapegoats is, 'the media ruined my case,'" he said.

The Craft case will be talked about for years, and people will be divided about the verdict, he said.

"But it's not going to stop anyone from bringing allegations," he said.

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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harrystatel said...

I will not be going through Bubbaland in Catoosa County anymore nor will I spend any money there until there's some serious housecleaning

How embarrassing for law enforcement, the DA's office, and the inept investigators, not to mention the Judge's single digit IQ.

Beware Catoosa County—there's probably witches and warlocks lurking in your midst. Time to get out the rack, the water dunking chair, and begin looking for witches teats on the townsfolk. Welcome to the 17th Century in Georgia.

May 23, 2010 at 12:20 a.m.
legend_XIX said...

Were any of these clowns thinking of the consequences of railroading an obviously innocent woman when they decided to go after her with flawed and fabicated evidence that even Steven Wonder and Ray Charles could see through? Or had they become so arrogant and accustom to having their way that they expected to be believed regardless of being caught in lies even by the jurors? Hopefully, there's an outside investigation into their practices and an evaluation of other cases they've tried. They all need to be banned from practicing law ever again. And who in the &*^% is this Lamb woman? Who seems to have some kind of hold and control over these jokers that everytime she snaps her fingers they come running to her biddings? Even she admits in her sworn warrant against the investigator she assaulted, but was never charged for the assault, that she and Arnt are "friends?" Talk about conflict of interest from top to bottom?

May 23, 2010 at 8:48 a.m.
whatsthefuss said...

It all begins with law enforcement. We expect all people elected, appointed or hired to conduct their work without bias or emotion. The Grand Jury does not allow for a defense. If accused you are only allowed to answer questions. The inital part of any investigation should include any motivation to slander by the accuser regardless of the charge. There will always be people who will try to use law enforcement and the courts to achieve their own goals without consideration for anyone but themselves. When the first vote by the jury came back with just one guilty vote it became obvious that the evidence was not there. For a DA to critize our legal system and the jury, it is insulting to all citizens. It does not appear the sheriff or DA have any intention to look back into their respective fish bowls and see if the scenery or feeding habits need to be changed. Men who can look back on their work and make changes to improve it as time goes on will always be respected. The rest will soon fall to the wayside.

May 23, 2010 at 10:49 a.m.
Esther said...

Dear Ms. Lukachick,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful article. I really thought you brought out some excellent points from many different angles. I especially appreciate that you sought out the legal expertise from a law professor outside of the Chattanooga valley area.

I wonder, however, if when you spoke with Mr. Jarvis you happened to mention that an individual was blogging about this case. Did you perhaps discuss that the blog was heavily slanted against the prosecution? Did you ask him to examine the accusations against the prosecution to determine whether they were accurate from a legal perspective? Did you happen to mention that several members of the local media are also following this blogger on Twitter? I would be interested in his answers to these questions if you thought to ask them.

I am grateful for the long hours that reporters like you put in to share information with the public. It is a low paid and thankless job. Please know you are appreciated.

Very warmly, Esther

May 23, 2010 at 9:24 p.m.
Snooksie said...

I am all for making sure children know to stand up for themselves when its the truth. This case was nothing but a weatlthy family trying to get back at a teacher who once use to be their friend. When you want to have someone tried for something you need to make sure you have more evidence than she wore sexy clothes or did yard work in tank tops and shorts. My hope is that this trial teaches a two things to people. 1)That just because someone has money that leagally they cant buy what they want. 2)That even though Tonya was arrested and tried for something she didnt do that justice will still prevail and people dont completely loose faith in our judicial system.

May 24, 2010 at 9:41 a.m.
Esther said...

Ms. Lukachick,

I thought of another question you might ask Mr. Jarvis should you have the opportunity. How might he think media coverage is affected when an attorney advertises to potential clients that some cases need to be fought in the media and that they "work with media professionals so news coverage is more favorable than it might be otherwise" ( I'd be interested to know Mr. Jarvis' thoughts about why an law firm would even advertise this service if it didn't play into the trial.

All the best, Esther

May 24, 2010 at 12:51 p.m.
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