Tonya Craft Trial Update: How 'Normal' Becomes 'Very Suspicious'


Yesterday a defense expert effectively rebutted testimony about physical evidence against Tonya Craft, the Chickamauga, Georgia, kindergarten teacher accused of sexually abusing three girls. Based on photographs taken during examinations of the girls, who supposedly were molested during sleepovers at Craft's house, Nancy Fajman, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University, said she saw no evidence of abuse. This is a summary of her testimony from WRCB, the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga:

State expert said two medical exams were "suspicious." Dr Fajman says results of child sex exams are either "normal" or "abnormal."…

Exam state nurse found "very suspicious" is not suspicious at all to Dr. Fajman. She says it's a "normal" result.

In other words, according to Fajman, the state's witness not only was mistaken; she did not even use the right terminology. WRCB's report says Fajman "comes across as authoritative, knowledgeable about child sex exams," and the prosecution did nothing to undermine her credibility during cross-examination. Her testimony seems devastating to the prosecution's case, especially since one of the alleged victims claimed Craft had put her entire hand inside her, which presumably would have left a detectable injury.

Without physical evidence, the prosecution's case relies on the spotty, inconsistent, self-contradictory, and at times highly implausible testimony of three little girls who show signs of being coaxed or pressured to falsely recall abuse. (Go here for my previous posts on the subject.) Testimony during the last week provided further evidence along those lines. This is from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

The detective [Tim Deal, the lead investigator] also testified that he conducted both interviews with the second alleged child victim.

In the first interview on May 27, 2008, the child didn't report any incident involving Ms. Craft touching her inappropriately. It was only when the detective interviewed her a second time in April 2009 that she told him she had been molested by Ms. Craft.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor after the videos were shown, the detective said that sometimes children don't reveal sexual abuse right away.

Here is WRCB's description of a videotaped interview with the first child witness, the actress who played an abused girl in a movie (emphasis added):

Girl says Tonya Craft used her fist to hit her for being "bad." First we've heard of Craft hitting girl…

Girl says Tonya Craft would "always" hit her. When asked if it ever left a mark she said, "ummmm, I don't remember."…

This taped interview was 11 months after the first interview with same girl. Girl disclosing a lot that wasn't in 1st interview.

The prosecution argues that gradual recovery of traumatic memories is common. But the contradictions and evolving accounts are also what you would expect if memories of abuse were false, planted in the children's minds by suggestive questioning, rumors, and/or coaching, as in the McMartin Preschool case and other molestation panics.

The defense is making the case that the accusations against Craft were instigated by adults with grudges, and there is a tangle of divorces, affairs, and soured relationships in Craft's social circle that I will not attempt to unravel. But according to testimony on Monday from Craft's ex-husband, the allegation that Craft abused her own daughter first came from his new wife, who herself had been reported to child services by Craft for regularly showering with the girl (which she admitted doing). During a videotaped interview, the girl said, "My mom [the stepmother, apparently] told me which is which and where they touched me."

The defense has presented witnesses who know Craft well and say they never saw signs of abuse, believe she is innocent, and would continue to trust her with their children. One woman says the mother of the child actress pressured her to report that her own daughter was abused and that police pressed for a second interview after her daughter failed to report abuse during the first one. Other parents who saw no indication their children were abused said police had no interest in talking to them.

The prosecution, meanwhile, is trying to portray Craft as a heavy-drinking, bisexual slut through insinuating questions and hearsay about such irrelevant points as her alleged interest in girl-on-girl porn. I'm hoping the jury sees through this misdirection, because now that the prosecution has rested its case there is no question that it failed to meet its burden of proof.