Three seek probe of Craft case conduct

Three seek probe of Craft case conduct

June 3rd, 2010 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Three people have written letters calling for an investigation of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney's office over its handling of the Tonya Craft case.

One letter came from a Seattle man who said he began following the case after Ms. Craft was interviewed on NBC's "Today" show.

Max-Jayde Romero, who said he never has been to Chickamauga, Ringgold or Chattanooga, wrote Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to accuse prosecutors of "legal bullying of an innocent victim" and to ask him to reform the process of investigating child sexual abuse cases.

"My purpose is that they would evaluate the process," Mr. Romero said by telephone Wednesday. "From a regular person's point of view, it kind of left a bad perception of the whole system down there."

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tonya Craft leaves the Catoosa County Courthouse Thursday evening.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tonya...

Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga, Ga., schoolteacher, was acquitted May 11 on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

Lookout Mountain District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Benny Owen, of Rocky Face, Ga., wrote a four-page letter to Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker asking for an investigation, as well. In his letter, he said he sat in the courtroom for part of the trial and called what he heard and saw "a travesty of justice."

Mr. Owen declined Wednesday to comment to the Times Free Press.

Eric Echols, Ms. Craft's private investigator who was arrested while working on the case, also wrote to Mr. Baker, asking for an investigation of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit.

Mr. Echols' letter claims that his arrest on three felony counts of influencing a witness was aimed at keeping him from revealing evidence proving that Ms. Craft wasn't guilty.

His letter asks the attorney general's office to investigate what it calls the "lawless behavior" of key people in the judicial circuit, including Mr. Franklin and Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt.

"I wrote the letter because I feel like I'm being mistreated," Mr. Echols said Wednesday.

Mr. Echols got a rebuff from Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin.

In a letter provided to the Times Free Press, Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Echols had provided no evidence to support allegations of misbehavior in the local prosecutor's office. He also said the offices with jurisdiction to investigate such allegations are the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and the State Bar of Georgia.

A spokesman for Mr. Baker, deputy counsel Daryl Robinson, said local district attorneys' offices don't answer to a state supervisor.

"(We) don't have the general prosecution authority," he said.

Contacted by telephone, spokesmen for the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and the State Bar of Georgia would not confirm or deny Wednesday if they have received any complaints against the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit. Both spokesmen said any such requests would not be available to the public.

After Ms. Craft's trial ended, her defense attorneys also accused Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit officials of judicial misconduct during the trial and of doing a poor job interviewing the three children alleged to be victims in the case.

At that time, Mr. Franklin faxed a statement to local media, defending his office and denying all allegations of improper conduct.