published Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Craft's children doing fine, testimony in custody dispute shows

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tonya Craft speaks to one of her lawyers, Clancy Covert, left, before the start of a custody hearing between Craft and her ex-husband Joal Henke held in Judge Marie Williams' courtroom Tuesday.

Tonya Craft's five-week trial on child molestation charges dredged up sordid, intimate details about her and her ex-husband's private lives, but some witnesses testifying in the couple's custody case say all the nastiness has not affected their children.

During testimony Tuesday in a custody hearing, Kendra Svoboda, one of the children's teachers at Westview Elementary School, described the 10-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl as "very resilient."

"I think they are doing remarkably well considering the circumstances," Svoboda said.

Craft, a former North Georgia teacher, lost custody of her children and visitation with her daughter in June 2008 when she first was accused of inappropriately touching her daughter and two of her daughter's friends.

The custody dispute in Hamilton County Circuit Court between Craft, 37, and her ex-husband, Joal Henke, will last a minimum of four days, officials said. It will determine who will have primary custody of the couple's children after Craft was found not guilty in May in a Georgia state court on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

Taking the stand Tuesday, several teachers at the children's current school and workers at Henke's church, Eastwood Church, described Joal and his wife, Sarah, as loving, supportive parents.

They said the children have good grades, excellent behavior and healthy social lives. And most of the witnesses who knew the children before 2008 said they appeared the same as they did when Craft had full custody.

"I see a family that's secure, very loving and very kind," said Laura Smith, director of the children's ministry at Eastwood Church.

In a $25 million federal lawsuit filed against her accusers, Craft claims her ex-husband, the entire Catoosa County government and child therapists conspired to bring a false case against her by manipulating the children who accused her.

But during nearly three hours of questioning Tuesday, Henke said he never instigated nor drove the criminal case to court.

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

While making the children available for interviews and court appearances and also responding to subpoenas himself, he never spoke with his children about the allegation against their mother, he testified in court.

"It wasn't mine to stop," he said. "This wasn't about me. I was concerned with anything that would be of danger to my children. I reacted with the best I knew to do at that time, which was cooperation."

As much as he hated it, when his children had questions or were upset about the case, he said he told them they had to talk with a professional therapist.

"We sheltered them from the news. We sheltered them from the media. We avoided that. They didn't see computers, television," he said.

Now, he said he wants Craft to be involved in the children's lives but doesn't want her to be more involved than he is.

"She's tenacious, intelligent," he testified. "When she sets her mind on something, she doesn't stop. She is very focused. I think both of our children can learn from that. I do think she loves the children."

Still, throughout the hearing Craft's attorneys asked repeated questions about Henke's attempts to deny Craft access to their children over the last two years. They said he wouldn't let Craft see her son on Mother's Day or birthdays, even though she had asked for those days under the terms of her supervised visitation.

The children spent those days with his current wife and her parents, Henke testified.

He testified that he didn't recall those specific days.

During the hearing, attorneys showed Facebook posts by Sarah Henke in which she says how thankful she was for the children and how sweet Craft's son was to make her pancakes on Mother's Day.

At times during Henke's cross-examination Tuesday, one of Craft's attorney's, Scott King, became so animated and aggressive, Circuit Court Judge Marie Williams told him he had to calm down.

"We are going to switch examiners if you can't keep it together," Williams told King.

King also grilled Sarah Henke, who's pregnant, about her practice of showering with Craft's daughter, a fact brought up during Craft's criminal trial.

Sarah Henke said she started showering with the 6-year-old because she didn't think the girl was getting clean enough when she bathed on her own, and it became a weekly ritual for the two. She stopped, she said, when a psychologist said they shouldn't shower together because of Craft's criminal case.

"I was doing nothing wrong," Sarah Henke said.

Testimony will continue today, but will be closed to the media so the judge and attorneys can review expert testimony about the medical and psychological records of Craft's two children.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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Return the parenting agreement to it's original state. Period.

November 17, 2010 at 6:59 a.m.
TravelinThru said...

I agree, the custody situation should be returned to it's original state. The childrens' removal was contingent upon the outcome of her criminal trial. The verdict was not guilty, therefore she should regain custody as it was previously set forth. The amount of hate between these three people has to be absolutely exhausting. You can't tell me the children have not been affected in some way.

November 17, 2010 at 7:33 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

What happened to Ms. Craft is indeed a tragedy...however, the constant shilling by WGOW, and it's so called news director, Kevin West (who does nothing more than read the Times Free Press for his newcasts) is becoming very annoying...No one is listening to her show, give up Kevin...

November 17, 2010 at 10:23 a.m.
mart1ros said...

Why did the father permit Heneke to shower with his daughter? It sounds like that is inappropriate. Maybe, the child should be interviewed to see if she was inappropriately touched in the shower by Heneke.

November 17, 2010 at 10:31 a.m.
SeaIsland said...

Return to the original agreement.

November 17, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.
concernedmomof2 said...

I agree, return to the original parenting plan. Unfortunately they are in Judge William's courtroom and she usually rules in the man's favor. I hope that isn't the case this time and she can start proving she is more for the children, unlike her current reputation.

November 17, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Oridinaryguy, agree with that 100%. It is clear that Kevin West and another written media are way to involved to be objective. Just like they launched a media effort to impact the criminal trial, Kevin West is working that approach again in this custody hearing. It is wrong and pathetic. Being found not gulity on the criminal court standard does not mean, that the Children should be returned to her. It is was it best for the children, not these dysfunciton adults and their media campaigns.

November 17, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.
kbp said...

In addition to inaccuracies reported here, it appears the reporter is evidently unfamiliar with many of the facts that relate to what the Henkes have testified to.

November 17, 2010 at 2:08 p.m.
MrsPollyLeon said...

KBP - I agree with you 100%. I also do not think her radio show has ANYTHING to do with this custody hearing at all. people do listen and people beg her for help. Her story, unfortunately, is not unique. She lost her job and her ability to do her job (though she was given her license back - who'd want it?) She is doing what she wants finally - to help people who had no idea where to turn for help. The media campaign during the trial SAVED HER without their help the courts would have railroaded her straight to prison for the rest of her life. The children SHOULD be returned to her and I do not believe she has a problem with the Henke's having visitation as originally stated. She was not guilty of what she was accused of - so why in the world would it NOT be in the children's best interest to be with her now? Doesn't everyone paint a pretty, happy family picture at church? Really - are they the best source of information? All they proved, which was left out of the story was that he must have early onset Alzheimer's, Sarah is still naive (and a liar for saying she never tried to be their mom - did you see her Facebook page?), he obtained a fraudulent home loan (probably made commission off of it too) the principal is a liar and then the church people are fooled into believe Joal is perfect??? The list of lies just yesterday was crazy. They should have looked over the other transcript so at least the court documents are the same. She said she never shaved with the girl in the shower yesterday, but in the other trial said she'd turn her back - get your stories straight people. If I ever bought a house from this nutjob...I'd be very afraid to look at my paperwork now. Snake in the grass...

November 17, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.
ordinaryguy said...

Mrs Polly, I don't believe anyone has said this is all about her radio show...what we have said is that Kevin is using this custody hearing as a way to boost the ratings of a non performing show...I think the people that have asked Tonya for assistance would be better served had she set up something on her own without the radio...

November 17, 2010 at 3:58 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Ordinaryguy, it appears that Ms. Polly lack objectivity. It is obvious the media play used to intervene in the criminal trial. Clearly, Kevin West is the leader that rallies media, it is very strange and really unprofesional for media to do this. I am not convinced that the victim children had a fair trial because of media.

November 17, 2010 at 5:38 p.m.
Marathon5454 said...

O J Simpson was found "not guilty" too...Lets hope that Joal keeps the children. He's doing a great job

November 17, 2010 at 9:01 p.m.
lgt said...

Mr Anderson is very informed and has done a great deal of research regarding this case.

November 18, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.
Allison12 said...

William Anderson is one of the Crafty crazy tean like the attorney described in this article.

November 18, 2010 at 11:05 p.m.
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