Crime

Tonya Craft Trial Update: 'Inept Interviewers,' 'Shoddy Investigation'

|

During the last week, three defense experts—Ann Hazzard, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Emory University; Nancy Aldridge, a child specialist at Briarcliff Psychological Associates in Atlanta; and William Bernet, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University—have highlighted the problems with the investigation that led to the molestation charges against Chickamauga, Georgia, kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft. They noted that repetitive questioning by interviewers who "won't take 'no' for an answer" (as Aldridge put it) may lead children to believe they have not answered correctly; anxious to please adults, they may then supply the answer they sense the interviewer wants. The same sort of thing can happen when parents who have heard rumors of abuse (and who have repeatedly discussed the subject with other parents, reinforcing each other's suspicions) grill their children. Children tend to incorporate information suggested by adults into their memories to the point where they cannot distinguish between what actually happened and what adults told them.

It is therefore very important for interviewers to avoid preconceptions, leading questions, and persistent grilling that signals they want to hear something other than what the child has reported so far. Hazzard, Aldridge, and Bernet all agreed that the interviewers in this case repeatedly failed to follow those guidelines, citing specific examples of unprofessional methods, including both biased questioning and failure to follow up on answers that did not point in the direction they wanted. Amazingly, one interviewer failed to videotape or otherwise document the moment when she says one of the girls, after repeatedly denying that anything untoward had happened, finally claimed Craft had abused her. Bernet, who said he had never in his career heard of such a lapse, repeatedly called the interviewers "inept" and described the police investigation as "shoddy."

This is not just a matter of dueling experts. First, the defense experts are far more knowledgeable and credible than the interviewers who talked to Craft's accusers, who seemed unconcerned about the possibility of eliciting false accounts of abuse and testified that they were not familiar with research on how adult expectations can contaminate children's memories. Second, there are numerous red flags in the questions asked by the interviewers, the answers given by the children, and their subsequent testimony in court that strongly suggest the girls were coached or pressured to remembers things that never happened. (See my previous posts on the subject here.) Based on this record, Bernet's description of the interviewers' methods is perfectly justified.

NEXT: The Global War on Something

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But, but, but …

    Children never lie about sexual abuse si it must have happened.

    The prosecution rests.

    1. It’s one of those things like rape charges. When there’s enormous pressure not to report, and someone who reports would generally not be believed and would be in for punishment herself, then it’s entirely reasonable to believe that everyone who does come forward under all that pressure is telling the truth.

      However, to the degree that you encourage people to come forward, you weaken that presumption.

      1. Maybe if she wasnt such a goddamn whore I’d believe her. But come on! whores always are molesting kids.

        1. Really! And just what out of this trial has made you come to the belief that she is a “whore”. You must be related to the prosecutors!

        2. You are a complete fucking idiot. Please shut your mouth and do not breed as your stupidity shouldn’t infect the world. Moron.
          How does someone as stupid as you get access to a computer anyway?

  2. I can’t believe that grown adults are having to learn this all over again! It’s like after the travesties of the eighties and early nineties, we’ve forgotten everything we learned about grilling the shit out of 5 year olds, demanding to know where teacher touched them!

    1. Because it’s not about learning anything, Paul. It’s about the fact that some people, when they really don’t like another person, are perfectly comfortable accusing them of something awful that could destroy their lives. And there are plenty of cops, prosecutors, “experts”, and others who are perfectly happy to jump on board to promote their careers, feel superior, whatever.

      1. Stop explaining how I actually work, dick!

        1. People v. McMartin was so three decades ago. People never learn.

      2. I agree Episiarch, sometimes and for a fact there are kids that lie about abuse, because there parents are against someone, and coach them what to day. There are several that are true, but I think in this case, it was the State of GA, just rushing to judgement.

    2. We’ve had a couple of similar cases in metro Detroit a couple of years ago. One involved using facilitated communication from a severly autistic girl to ruin a family’s life.

      Another fucked over a male elementary schoolteacher. The room he allegedly molested two 5 or 6 year olds in was occupied by another class and teacher at the time he supposedly did it. He was freed after a second trial when all this came out.

      The witch hunt has never stopped.

    3. Stupid people never learn anything except how to keep their sense of superiourty untouched. Watching idiots squirm is great but you make an enemy for life.

    4. We learned plenty. Evil prosecutors watched Janet Reno and learned that this shit makes a career.

    5. You’d think they would have learned their lesson from watching how Martha Coakley was punished by the bar for her bogus sex abuse case.

      Oh wait…

      1. As sucky as whatever his face is, I’m very glad Coakley didn’t win her congressional race. A bland, two-faced douchebag is far superior to smirking evil.

  3. Anyone actually surprised by a shoddy investigation?

    Lou
    http://www.being-anonymous.at.tc

  4. Children tend to incorporate information suggested by adults into their memories to the point where they cannot distinguish between what actually happened and what adults told them.

    Wouldn’t this mean that the interviewers, and possibly the parents, actually committed child abuse

    1. It’s been suggested…

  5. Whether the verdict comes back guilty or not, it looks like the methods used to bring these kinds of charges need to be reviewed.

    You hate to say it, but if interviewers are essentially badgering kids into making false accusations and then failing to document the interviews properly…

    It makes you wonder if there might be people who’ve been wrongfully convicted by the same bunch. God forbid she were a man or somebody who, for whatever reason, looked more like someone juries might assume was guilty.

  6. Why go through all this trouble? Just tie a millstone around her neck, throw her in a pond, and see if she drowns! That’s how we did it in my day.

  7. The best outcome would be the jury deliberating for 5 minutes, return a not guilty verdict and berate the prosecutor for wasting their time.

    1. Have you ever seen jurors? I mean the ones who actually get picked for duty?

      1. Me in action!

    2. This is almost exactly what happened to a friend of mine whose 13-year-old adopted daughter accused him of “sexing” her so she and her sisters could return to their bio-mom, who couldn’t afford the legal fees to re-acquire them in court (my friends were willing to let them go, but NOT extra-legally).

      He was arrested twice (once at work), and tried. Fortunately his wife worked for a doctor who knew the good lawyers. They hocked several years of their lives, but gained his freedom after the girls showed themselves for the lying, system-manipulating creeps they were by then (my friends adopted them when they were already over 10; their bio-mother had signed them away after years of yo-yo custody because of actually abusive male companions and drugs and stuff like that).

      The jury acquited him in about half an hour, and came up to him afterwards, shaking his hand and wondering just how the prosecution had let it go that far. The had been no attempt to examine the girl’s story or any of the “evidence” she gave them. Just the accusation was all the prosecutor had.

      The “happy ending” wasn’t all good: my friend had just started his last semester of nursing school when this all happened. Guess who is NOT an RN? It took them a lot of years to pay the lawyer off, too.

      1. Almost forgot, in the not-quite-a-happy ending category: my friends had to pay the state child support until each of the three girls reached 18. The girls were removed from their home immediately, of course, but my friends were not allowed to “divorce” them. Not when they could be tapped for money, oh no sir. The only good part was the older sister was almost 17 when this travesty happened, and the younger girls were twins (one of them was the “abused” sister) so they aged out at the same time.

        Nice to have silver linings, isn’t it?

      2. What happened to your friends is horrible but calling repeatedly abused children who’ve been shuttled around a broken system “system-manipulating creeps” is childish, counterproductive and in itself, creepy. Yes, children that have been abused often learn how to lie and manipulate as means of self-preservation. Can you blame them? These were obviously traumatized children that were being influenced by an unstable adult who had strong emotional power over them. Your friends were victims in this situation but blaming the other more vulnerable victims is ridiculous. The blame should lie squarely on the abuser(s), the overeager prosecutors and the broken system. But that’s not as satisfying to a self-righteous vengeful ego as calling abused children creeps, is it?

  8. …return a not guilty verdict and berate beat the prosecutor for wasting their time.

  9. “They noted that repetitive questioning by interviewers who “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” (as Aldridge put it) may lead children to believe they have not answered correctly”

    Yes.

    “Children tend to incorporate information suggested by adults into their memories to the point where they cannot distinguish between what actually happened and what adults told them.”

    No.

    I hate psychologists.

    Also, Niicccce.

  10. I don’t get it. Why are they saying that these kids were abused?? That teacher is hot! Doesn’t anyone remember what it was like in grade school? IF anything even happened (which I doubt) these kids weren’t abused, they were lucky.

    1. Maybe if they were over 18, but not 5 year olds.

      1. 18 is an bullshit arbitrary number that has nothing to do with what kids want or what kids can handle and everything to do with what parents want and what parents are afraid of.

        I don’t think most adults really remember what it was like to be kids. They have a few simple memories of things that happened, but they don’t remember what it felt like or what their desires were. This drives a LOT of bad decisions in everything from politics to parenting.

      2. but yeah 5 is probably too young even for boys.

        1. ANOTHER moron. wow.

    2. Wrong case. These are little girls, not teenage boys.

      1. I wanted to lose my virginity as soon as I opened my first Victoria’s Secret catalog at age 7 and they say girls mature faster than boys. Maybe not.

        But yeah, still wrong case I guess.

  11. isn’t the most important question here whether you’d hit it or not?

  12. The sad thing about child sexual abuse is that it is both 1) oneof the most under-reported crimes, and 2) one of the most (if not the most) falsely reported crimes.

    Anyone who would falsely report someone as a child abuser for any reason is a fucking cockroach.

    1. Unfortunately it happens in divorce cases all the time. Lacking children to pin it on, charges of sexual assault are next in line during the stress of a divorce. People can really be evil when they want to be.

  13. So with all of this doubt swirling around the case, they’ll probably let her plead out and only get 20 years.

    1. There will be a “not guilty” verdict, she will get a book deal and a movie deal and she will hire all kinds of investigators to clear her name and sue the daylights out of her “best friends” that made all this nonsense up.

      1. I hope so.

  14. I’ll take this as “encouraging”, based on what I’ve read about this case so far. Hope they’re on the way to “not fucking guilty, bitches”.

    The South Park episode on getting “molestered” got just a little less funny, however…

  15. Thanzor: either you are just mocking the ineptness of the prosecution, or you have got to be one of the most maniacal psychopaths I ever read a comment from. If you are serious in your condemnation of her, if you are ever called for jury duty, I hope someone finds this comment from you to keep you from ever being chosen for a jury panel.

    Anyone how has ever been falsely accused of anything serious would have a very different attitude. I have no way to know if that woman was actually guilty or not, and it appears those jury members don’t either… if they are doing their job right, that’s why they should vote to find her “not guilty”, which, unfortunately for her, is not the same thing as being found “innocent”.

    I’m amazed that in the TV segment, and among all previous comments, no one mentioned the McMartin child molestation case—

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/tunnels.htm

    15 million dollars of taxpayer money and three years was spent on this farce, and the prosecution did not follow leads that may have led to exoneration of the accused, or strengthened the case against them… several former students testified against them, none of their recollections of “secret rooms” or “tunnels” matched, and the young witnesses had been improperly questioned in outrageous ways. I can remember when the trial started, I assumed they were guilty– by the time it ended, I was shuddering to think what a nightmare it would have been to have been in their same position, and what a burden it would have been to try to prove my innocence under such horrid circumstances.

  16. When a child is abused they NEVER forget. There were too many “I don’t remembers” from the kids on the stand. When you’re molested you remember everything, the sights, the sounds, everything. I can tell you everything that happened to me as a child at 5 years old even today at 34! This is a travesty. These kids have been coached!

  17. The Catoosa County Superior Court jury found Tonya Craft, 37, not guilty on each of 22 charges of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation. Craft wept after the verdict as supporters cheered loudly outside the courtroom.

  18. this woman is sick…and needs help

    1. AND your another Idiot for condemning someone before all the facts come out. You need help. Help wiping the drool off your chin because of your complete stupidity.

  19. Ugly women can be so jealous of a hottie they will go to extremes like this. Thats pretty much all this case was…..ugly moms and ugly townswomen that cant get laid and are so pissed off and unhappy with their lives turn that misery on to someone else.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.