Expert says girl could've been led

Expert says girl could've been led

May 1st, 2010 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

RINGGOLD, Ga. - A psychology expert testified Friday that one of the girls alleging that a former kindergarten teacher molested her could have been led to that statement in an early interview.

Dr. Ann Hazzard, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, testified that she interviewed the third alleged victim in the Tonya Craft case after the girl's interviews with local authorities.

Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher, is charged with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation. The charges involve three girls.

Called as an expert witness on the clinical psychology of children who have been sexually abused, Dr. Hazzard spent all day Friday on the stand.

She told the jury that Ms. Craft's defense team asked her to interview the third child in the case and examine the interview that social worker Suzie Thorne of the GreenHouse Children's Advocacy Center had conducted with the child in June 2008.

She testified that most of Ms. Thorne's interview was properly conducted, but she had a problem with a key section of the interview when Ms. Thorne asked a question of the child.

She explained that Ms. Thorne had implied what "good" and "bad" touches were to the girl, which could make the girl assume that it would be "bad" any time she was touched on her privates - even during legitimate times such as applying medicine.

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

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

"For young children, that's potentially problematic," she said.

She also addressed how important it is not to lead or suggest questions to a child during an interview.

"It's hard for children to distinguish between what actually happened and what they heard and, in some cases, what they added out of their own imagination," Dr. Hazzard said.

In her own report, Dr. Hazzard said she interviewed the girl by using a list of touches that someone could give a child, including hugging, kissing and touching in private parts, then asked the child to talk about each item on list.

When Dr. Hazzard got to the last question, she said the child became a little anxious but eventually pointed to the private area on the stick figure and indicated that Ms. Craft had touched her there.

Dr. Hazzard testified that, when she questioned the child about when the touching happened, all the girl could say was, "I don't know."

"Her emotional reaction was interesting," Dr. Hazzard testified, explaining the child looked puzzled.

Dr. Hazzard was not allowed to give her final evaluation of the child based on three separate interviews.

Before testimony began, both legal teams spent an hour arguing about what evidence in Dr. Hazzard's report should be brought into the case.

In the hearing, defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos became flushed and raised his voice when confronting Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor, who implied that Mr. Lorandos lied about evidence that was supposed to be given to the state.

Dr. Lorandos explained he had provided the information in an attached e-mail that Mr. Gregor hadn't printed out.

Superior Court Judge Brian House quickly chided Mr. Lorandos for raising his voice.

At the end of the hearing, the judge ruled that he wouldn't allow Dr. Hazzard to include several parts of her report, including the conclusions she came to regarding the child, saying "that would be for the jury to decide."

When Mr. Gregor began his cross-examination, he questioned Dr. Hazzard's conclusion about Ms. Thorne's interview and asked if she hadn't done the same thing in her own interview with the child.

Dr. Hazzard responded that she had used a more neutral method to question the child.

In response, Mr. Gregor said he'd planned to go through her interview with the child and judge how she did.

"I would agree that, in practice, it's difficult to do an absolute perfect interview," Dr. Hazzard told Mr. Gregor. "But when you judge interviews, you need to look at them overall and look at the number of errors."

Mr. Gregor spent Friday afternoon asking her about her interview and the study of psychology in general. He pointed out past theories that he said used to be considered reputable statements, including that the "world was flat."