Crime

Tonya Craft Trial Update: 'Mom Said I Could Get a Toy If I Talked to You'

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On Friday, two more girls, including Tonya Craft's 8-year-old daughter, testified that the former Chickamauga, Georgia, teacher had sexually abused them. The daughter, who used to live with Craft, is now in the custody of Craft's ex-husband. Other local news outlets have joined WRCB, the Chattanooga TV station that has been providing the most detailed trial coverage so far, in highlighting the gaps and inconsistencies in the testimony of Craft's three alleged victims, who in addition to her daughter include two girls who say she molested them during sleepovers at her house. Here is a report from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Conflicting details emerged Friday in testimony from two child witnesses in Tonya Craft's trial on child molestation charges.

An attorney for Ms. Craft asked the 8-year-old girls to explain why their answers in earlier interviews with investigators and social workers were different from what they said Friday on the witness stand.

Each responded with a similar statement: "I didn't remember" or "I don't know."

Here is The Chattanoogan:

As with the first young witness who testified on [Wednesday and Thursday], the latest young witness peppered her testimony with "I just remembered," and "I don't know," or "I don't remember." The only difference was that this witness used them with the prosecution, as well as the defense.

WRCB:

The answers from the girls sometimes differed from their answers in earlier taped interviews with investigators and social counselors. The girls would explain the differences with responses like "I don't remember."

The inconsistencies were not trivial. The second alleged victim, for example, told investigators Craft had touched her outside her clothing, while on Friday she said it was underneath her clothing. The same girl told investigators she did not report the alleged abuse because Craft told her not to; on Friday she said she remained silent because Craft threatened to "hurt my mom and dad." (This shifting story is similar to the evolving account of the first child witness, who initially said she remained silent because she thought she would get in trouble with her parents but later "remembered" that Craft had threatened to kill her mother.) The second child witness also was inconsistent about how many times she had been at Craft's house:

Defense Attorney: You've told us that you've been over to Miss Tonya's house several times, but this morning you told us it was only once. Why is that?

Witness: I just remembered.

Another point that has been difficult to pin down is approximately (let alone exactly) when these alleged incidents of abuse are supposed to have taken place. The indictments cover a six-year period, from 2002 to 2008. Craft's defense attorney labored mightily to narrow this window down during his questioning of Craft's daughter. "I can't remember when it happened," she exclaimed at one point. "I just know it happened." Finally, after using photographs of herself at different ages to refresh her memory of the time frame, she agreed that the incidents must have occurred between April 2007 and May 2008.

In previous posts, I've noted indications that the first child witness was encouraged to report abuse, whether or not it actually happened. On Friday the defense showed videos of interviews with the other two girls that provided more evidence of coaching (emphasis added):

Before the interview was over, the girl [the second child witness] told the detective, "Mom said I could get a toy if I talked to you." "She didn't tell you you could get a toy for just coming to me, did she?" "Yes, she did." After several more attempts to get the girl to tell him, that she was getting the toy for telling the truth, she finally responded affirmatively.

Video of an interview with Craft's daughter also suggests adults were determined to elicit allegations against Craft (emphasis added):

In the video, the child remained calm and didn't say Ms. Craft touched her inappropriately, but she started to cry after she was asked about another girl who is not one of the alleged victims.

"Don't ask me," the girl cried, and covered her ears and face.

On the video, the social worker left the room and re-entered, then asked the child directly how Ms. Craft had touched her inappropriately. The image shows the girl became completely flustered and said, "I don't want to talk."

In that first exchange, judging from Friday's questioning, the girl was upset about allegations that she had played "the boyfriend/girlfriend game" with her friends, which reportedly involved putting their hands down each other's pants. In the second exchange, it seems the social worker, not the girl, first raised the idea that Craft had touched her inappropriately.