Crime

Tonya Craft's Alleged Victim Reports How She Remembered Abuse: 'My Momma Told Me'

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Yesterday I noted that testimony presented by prosecutors in the trial of Chickamauga, Georgia, kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft, who is accused of sexually abusing three little girls, strengthened the arguments of skeptics who say the case against her is built on fabrications and/or false recollections elicited by the authorities. Today the same witness, a 9-year-old girl reporting events that allegedly occured at Craft's house about four years ago, continued her testimony and raised more red flags. This account is from WRCB*, the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga (emphasis added):

Child says in video questioning [by a counselor at a crisis center] that Tonya Craft would not feed her. Child says in video, "I was scared to tell her to stop."

Child is asked if anything else happened. Video shows she shook her head no. Then interview[er] asks if Tonya Craft was mean in other ways. Interviewer continues to ask little girl if anything else happened in video.

Little girl tells interviewer she played "boyfriend-girlfriend game" with other alleged victim.

Child witness says Tonya Craft kissed her on neck. Child witness says in video she did not tell mom what Craft did.

Defense asks the girl on the stand: "Was that a mistake?" Girl: "I don't know."

Some of the evidence in the video appears to conflict with the child's testimony on the stand. When asked if she knows why, she said "I don't know."

Little girl says Tonya Craft turned up music in her car, rap music with bad words….

Child in video is asked whether there is anything else that happened to her.

Response: "I'm thinking."

Interviewer in video gets up and leaves. Comes back into shot and asks more questions.

Interviewer asks child how she knew something happened to her.

Girl says, "My momma told me."…

Girl says Tonya Craft told her she had to touch her or she would have to go home. She also said Tonya threatened her mother.

Girl says Craft would scrub her hard with washcloth during a bath, but doesn't tell interviewer in video that she was molested….

The counselor, on video, asks child 12 times so far if there is "anything else". The defense attorney asks child on stand if it helped her remember better. Girl: "I don't know."

Child said she went to get "pampered" at a spa after interview with woman [at] crisis center. After being "pampered" she is then interviewed by another woman at the center….

After first 3 visits with a counselor, child doesn't talk about any molestation. Meets with new counselor and said "she (Tonya) would touch me everywhere."…

Defense keeping track of girl's claims on a big board in courtroom with a marker. Girl says she reported sexual abuse after the video stopped, after being asked 16 times, because she forgot.

Counselor asked 16 times: Anything else? After videotaping stopped, on the way out the door, little girl said Tonya Craft molested her….

On video, the girl's top complaints [about] Tonya Craft [are] that she "touched her everywhere" (clothed), wanted girl to touch her back, made her turn off tv, didn't like pajamas Craft gave her to wear, couldn't play with Barbies at bedtime, and went to mow the lawn….

The girl saw a counselor once per month between June 2008 and April 2009. In the tape the girl referred to Tonya Craft as "the evil one."

On tape and ten months into the sessions, the girl told her counselor that Craft sexually abused her while in the bath tub. Girl describes bathtub as white. She says Craft would use her hands to violate her. The girls uses the word "privates" to describe body parts. She also tells counselor that Craft covered her mouth and told her not to say anything as she molested her.

Child says she was scared she would be in trouble with her mom if she told.

Yesterday, by contrast, the girl testified that she remained silent because Craft had threatened to kill her mother. The inconsistencies, the memory failures, the interviewers' refusal to take no for an answer, and the accounts that steadily evolve under the persistent questioning all suggest this girl was encouraged to remember things that did not happen. So does the weird equivalence between a horrifying crime and infractions such as limiting TV time, supplying unattractive pajamas, and taking away toys at bedtime.

This girl was the first prosecution witness and presumably the strongest. After she stepped down, the prosecutors began to present testimony about physical evidence of abuse. Judging from the opening arguments, the defense will argue that the physical evidence is ambiguous. A nurse who examined all three girls testified today that the results of the first exam were "very suspicious," the results of the second were "suspicious," and the results of the third were "normal." But it's not clear how definitive these findings are. WRCB reports that the second ("suspicious") exam "didn't show tears, bruising, abrasions, or swelling," although "tissue was missing that should be present in a kid her age." I'm assuming that's the reporter's delicate way of saying that the girl's hymen was not intact, which is by no means conclusive evidence of abuse.

If the physical evidence is indeed ambiguous and the rest of the prosecution's witnesses are no more convincing than the first, it's hard to see how the jurors can conclude that the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt—unless they are blinded by the very nature of the accusations, which is always a risk in cases like this one.

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