Pushing state to investigate

Pushing state to investigate

May 13th, 2010 in News

This story was written by Joy Lukachick, Joan Garrett and Adam Crisp.

After a rancorous legal fight to clear Tonya Craft's name, her defense attorneys say they may push for an investigation to prove the state mishandled the case of the former teacher accused of molesting three girls.

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

Ms. Craft's lawyers say they are pouring over case documents and already have spoken to authorities about the best way to take action against the prosecutors and judge in the trial.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt refused to respond to allegations of misconduct and said he wouldn't comment on the case at this time. Working out of the district attorney's office in Walker County on Wednesday, he said he was busy getting ready for other court cases.

Tonya Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary teacher charged with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation walks into Catoosa County's courthouse in Ringgold, Ga., Thursday, May 6, 2010. Ms. Craft's trial is in its 19th day.(AP Photo/Billy Weeks)

Tonya Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary teacher charged...

Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney General Herbert "Buzz" Franklin also refused to speak about the case.

Superior Court Judge Brian House, who presided over the Craft case, refused to comment on the trial.

Officials at both the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission and the Georgia Attorney General's office said they couldn't confirm or deny investigations of misconduct spawned from the Craft trial.

Some of the trial moments that sparked outrage from Ms. Craft's attorneys included instances when state witnesses testified to events that were not included in discovery, the pretrial process in which each side is told what evidence and witnesses the opposing side intends to present.

At one point, Ms. Craft's ex-husband, Joal Henke, said she watched lesbian pornography and said he remembered that detail on the way to the courthouse.

That detail had never been mentioned before and defense attorneys objected to the disclosure, but Judge House allowed it.

On Wednesday, lawyers in North Georgia and Chattanooga said they doubted whether the defense would have grounds to call for an investigation into the state's handling of the case.

"Trials get very heated, and sometimes they push the envelope on both sides," said Lee Davis, a Chattanooga attorney.

Ringgold, Ga., attorney McCracken Poston said prosecutors were not out of line when they aggressively attacked Ms. Craft's character witnesses, asking them questions about what kind of underwear she wore, her sexual past and whether they knew she had been seen drunk in public.

"It's commonplace to go after the defendant's character," said Mr. Poston. "The defendant opens up the door by evidence of good character."

Still, it's clear that the prosecution and defense took different approaches in the controversial case, he said.

"The state's style didn't serve them very well," he said. "In this situation, the advocacy was very intense on both sides. The treatment of opposing counsel was pretty harsh."

One juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he was afraid he might be the target of violence, said he saw some bias in Judge House, and also noted that there was a clear personality conflict between the prosecution and defense.

In the end, he said jurors didn't think the case should have ever made it to trial.

"I think it was a total waste of taxpayers' money," he said. "There was just not enough evidence, or the evidence we were presented was tainted."

Jurors speculated that "even if we had a hung jury or if we found her guilty, that the conviction would be overturned ... on appeal, because of the bias," he said.

Jurors returned their verdict after 21 days of testimony and about 10 hours of deliberations.

He said he believes that, outside Catoosa County, the case would have been dismissed quickly.

"As far as I could see, there was no evidence that was credible enough to convict somebody of something like this, and I'm sure the other jurors would say the same," the juror said.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Should Tonya Craft regain full custody of her children?

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Craft custody attempt hits snag

Article: Attorney questions Craigslist investigations