Testimony today in the trial of Tonya Craft, a Chickamauga, Georgia, kindergarten teacher accused of molesting three little girls, provided more ammunition for skeptics like Reason contributor William L. Anderson, who argues that Craft is being railroaded. Craft was arrested two years ago and has since lost her job and custody of her two children. Anderson believes Craft, like the defendants in the McMartin Preschool case and other child molestation panics of the 1980s and '90s, faces false charges based on testimony from child witnesses who have been coached by therapists, police, and prosecutors to "remember" things that never happened. Today's testimony by one of Craft's alleged victims reinforces that impression. Here are excerpts from reporting by WCRB, the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga (emphasis added):
First witness called to stand is a 9-year-old female….Witness later describes Tonya Craft giving her a bath. The testimony is graphic [involving painful digital penetration of her vagina and rectum]. Witness uses hands to show how she was molested. Witness says molestation happened more than once….
Witness says she didn't tell anyone because she was scared. Claims Tonya Craft threatened to kill her mom if she told….
9-year-old witness says she is an actor. She has played in two movies, says she has also appeared in catalogs and magazines. Witness says she has played a character who was abused. This will be a key a part of the defense strategy in casting doubt….
Assistant District Attorney objects to the defense showing child's acting/model photographs. Defense wants to ask the child about her ability to remember rehearsed lines. The judge overruled.
Defense then showed child her resume from a movie web site, asking her about acting lessons….
Witness says she was abused by Tonya Craft when she [was] in her kindergarten class and while in the first grade. Defense attorney is asking child who she talked to about coming to court. The child said her therapist….
Witness asked what she thought of Craft as a teacher. Said, "I didn't like her." Defense trying to prove that isn't true. Defense reading letter written to Craft by child witness and her mother thanking Tonya for her teaching. Child looking at card she wrote to Craft at end of school year. It says "I love you."
Child witness changing story about where in Tonya Craft's house molestation allegedly happened, and when. Defense still probing for answers.
Defense: "Is there anything else?"
Girl: "There is more, but I can't remember."
Child witness then added that Tonya would mow lawn in short shorts & bra….
The witness on the stand says Craft molested her six or more times. When the defense attorney asked her why she didn't remember before, she said, "I just remembered."
Obviously, none of this is conclusive one way or the other, but if this is the general quality of the testimony against Craft (and presumably the prosecutors led with their strongest witness), reasonable doubt will be inescapable. Anderson notes that the usual line from accusers in cases like this is that we must "believe the children," but it's clear from overturned convictions and academic research (not to mention everyday experience) that little kids frequently will insist that something happened when it did not, especially if they are repeatedly coached by adult authority figures (who themselves may sincerely believe that abuse occurred). Here we have a 9-year-old recalling what allegedly happened when she was 5, with who knows how many intervening conversations aimed at eliciting descriptions of abuse. Furthermore, Anderson reports, several children who were at Craft's house when some of the abuse allegedly occurred insist that nothing untoward happened. If so, "believe the children" does not bring us any closer to the truth.
Anderson says the indictments in this case, which charge Craft with 22 counts of child molestation and aggravated sexual battery, are suspiciously vague about the timing of her alleged crimes, which compounds the difficulty of rebutting the prosecution's case. He also notes that the judge, who has been notably hostile to the defense, represented Craft's ex-husband in divorce proceedings as a lawyer, the sort of experience that could be expected to bias him against her. He rejected defense requests to recuse himself. After the prosecution, with the help of local media outlets, dragged Craft's name through the mud, the judge imposed a gag order that prevented her from defending herself in public.
Craft's supporters have a website.