The last bastion of hope is the jury. Please remember this when you are called for jury duty. You do NOT have to rule the way the prosecutor or even the judge tells you to rule. YOU can do what is right.
You Really Cannot Make Up This Stuff: The Ordeal and Vindication of Tonya Craft
By William L. AndersonSeptember 8, 2015 Accused: My Fight for Truth, Justice, & the Strength to Forgive, by Tonya Craft with Mark Dagostina, BenBella Books, 2015, 348 pages, Hardback.
To give a brief synopsis of Accused, Catoosa County, Georgia, authorities in 2008 charged Craft, then a kindergarten teacher, of 22 counts of child molestation, with the three accusing children being two daughters of former friends, along with her own daughter. Not surprisingly, she lost her job, her two children, her home, and was vilified in the local media.
Craft endured a five-week trial in April and May of 2010, and in the end, the jurors declared her not guilty. The trial itself was a farce, a spectacle that one had to follow closely to believe. The judge permitted the two prosecutors to run the proceedings and acted as a third arm of the prosecution, openly declaring his disdain for the defense. However, despite all efforts to rig the trial, the jury gave its pronouncement and the two prosecutors literally ran from the courthouse to their vehicles, one of them covering his face with a notebook. As the title of this article states, you really cannot make up this stuff.
In the aftermath of the not-guilty verdict, Craft regained custody of her children (sharing joint custody with her ex-husband, one of the ringleaders of the false charges), began law school, and forgave her adversaries. The three accusers, including her daughter, recanted their charges and most of the players on the prosecution side admitted at one time or another that they knew Craft was innocent. Much of the book deals with the months and years following the trial and is worth the read. That Tonya Craft openly and willingly forgave her accusers is testament to her own deep Christian faith.
Although Craft’s ordeal officially began in 2008, it really started in 1974 with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, better known as the Mondale Act. Written to deal with what Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota was a “growing epidemic” of child physical and sexual abuse, the new federal law promised millions of dollars to states and localities to prosecute accused child abusers and to create and empower agencies like Children’s Protective Services that had the authority to remove children from homes where they were allegedly being abused.
The law also had one important string tied to disbursement of federal money: state law no longer could require corroborating evidence in order to convict someone of child abuse or forms of child sexual abuse, molestation, and sexual assault. Instead, an accusation by itself was all that was needed for someone to be convicted. This turned the entire premise of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head, forcing the defendant to do the impossible: prove a negative. Like so many other federal laws created to “solve” crises that perhaps were not crises in the first place, the Mondale Act was soon found to have numerous perverse incentives, and those incentives led to events that would had appalling consequences in the lives of innocent people.
In the early 1980s, prosecutors across the country began to charge day care workers with horrific crimes of molesting children. Whether it was Republican Ed Jaegels in Kern County, California, or Democrat stalwarts Gil Garcetti in Los Angeles, Ronnie Earle in Austin, Texas, and Janet Reno in Dade County, Florida, prosecuting the cases, the charges seemed suspiciously the same. The accused were alleged to have microwaved babies (even though no babies seemed to have disappeared), taken children in spaceships where they molested them, led them into “secret rooms” or tunnels, and engaged in all sorts of wild, perverted actions that, amazingly, were unnoticed by others in the buildings at the time when these terrible things were supposed to have occurred.
Even it would become abundantly clear much later that the accused in these high-profile cases were innocent, police, prosecutors, judges, juries, and, most important, the media rushed to judgment and many people were falsely accused, convicted, and thrown into prison. People like Jaegels and Reno built their careers on these kinds of cases, and Reno rode her fame to the office of U.S. Attorney General. (It only took Reno a few months on the job at the DOJ to “graduate” to massacring children, as opposed to allegedly “protecting” them from child abuse.)
It took nearly two decades, but finally someone in the media, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal, took on these fraudulent cases, debunking them in articles and editorial columns, and finally winning a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts. One of the things Rabinowitz exposed was that states and judicial districts that pursued these cases received large sums of federal money, and the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, where Craft was charged and tried, was one of the recipient bodies of that money.
By 2010, the day care hysteria cases had gone away, but in their stead, parents involved in custody disputes and people wanting revenge found it was advantageous to accuse an ex-husband or former lover of child molestation. Because of the Mondale Act’s prohibition of a requirement of corroborating evidence, the accusation itself became “proof” of the crime. Child Protective Service workers, state-employed “therapists,” and other so-called forensic investigators found that if they worked with any child long enough, they could convince that child to testify against someone accused of molesting them, no matter if it happened or not. Want someone to disappear? Accuse that person of child molestation, and then watch the “justice” system go to work.
Police and prosecutors, knowing federal dollars awaited them, were anxious to pursue these cases and brought to an end any idea that people in law enforcement actually are interested in the truth of a particular case. It was “accuse, convict, and make money.” Ka-ching! Craft, unfortunately, would fall victim to a system in which the main players are out of control, and not one so-called governmental watchdog agency is willing to rein in the excesses.
When reviewing books, I generally am familiar with the content beforehand and I come into the whole exercise from a certain point of view. Because Tonya Craft is a friend of mine, I cannot say I come into this review devoid of certain perspectives of Craft and the people who were responsible for having her put on trial for child molestation in 2010, but I also have no doubts whatsoever about the utter wrongness regarding her ordeal. I will state unequivocally that not only were the charges for which Craft was acquitted were false, but the people making them – from the accusers to the judge – also knew they were false.
Numerous crimes were committed in this case, but not by Tonya Craft. One of the reasons I believe this book is a must read for people who still care about the integrity of American courts is that Craft has described in detail what happens when people in charge of the system no longer care about truth or right and wrong, but impose their personal agendas upon others – and have the means through the “justice” system to do just that.
Make no mistake, when a Catoosa County, Georgia, jury pronounced her “not guilty” of 22 counts of child molestation on May 11, 2010, they did not let a child molester go free, as Buzz Franklin, the District Attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, would claim three days later. No, the jurors had understood even before the prosecution rested its case that Craft was falsely accused, and they were emphatic in their post-trial pronouncements about her innocence.
Craft, who had been a kindergarten teacher in Catoosa County, Georgia, found herself accused of molesting three girls, including her own daughter. The mothers of two of the girls had turned against Craft for some imagined slights, while the other child accuser, Tonya’s daughter, was part of a custody dispute and Craft’s ex-husband had the incentive for wanting his former wife to disappear into the maw of the prison system.
Readers familiar with my previous writings know that I am a harsh critic of American “justice,” or at least “justice” of the official kind involving the courts, both state and federal. If I could put all of my criticisms into one space, it would be the space in which I have written about the Craft case, which exemplified everything that is wrong with “justice” in the United States. I can say unequivocally that the Craft case, both the trial and events leading up to it, involved the worst abuses I ever have seen in what allegedly was a court of law, and that includes the Cameron Willingham case in Texas in which authorities executed an innocent man.
I became intimately involved with this case, even more so than my involvement with the Duke Lacrosse Case of 2006-07, because I blogged on Craft’s trial and aftermath. My blogging received so much attention during the trial that Franklin partially blamed the news media and me for the acquittal, claiming that the media and the blogosphere “created an environment hostile to the State’s ability to receive a fair trial,” which demonstrated his utter ignorance as to who actually was on trial (Tonya Craft), and leaves one to question his legal competence.Since I pretty much made up the “blogosphere” for this trial (the other bloggers, including those at Cato and Popehat simply linked my posts), I was being openly accused of teaming up with the attorneys for the defense to lambast the State of Georgia. Being that the trial judge, Brian House, had issued a gag order that stood until after the verdict was reached, my actions would have amounted to open contempt of court and I could have been sent to jail.
However, as I wrote in my blog post responding to Franklin’s false accusations, I had no contact whatsoever with the defense, nor would have I tried to associate myself with them, given the inflammatory nature of my posts. No court would have stood for members of the defense team to openly and publicly call the prosecutors and their witnesses “The Gang That Couldn’t Lie Straight” during a trial. Enough said about that.
As I noted before, the Craft trial was as crooked as they possibly could come. Prosecution witnesses openly lied on the stand, and when the defense tried to enter outright evidence that proved the witnesses were lying, House refused their requests. Deforestation of North America would be needed to contain all of the times House openly acted as an arm of the prosecution, going as far as receiving hand signals from prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor, who were instructing him what to do next.
For example, under questioning from attorneys for the defense, Sandra Lamb declared that her daughter, one of the child accusers against Craft, never had received acting lessons. Since her daughter had appeared as a child actress in two movies, the claim seemed to lack credibility, and it was not difficult to find the child’s acting resume on the Internet Movie Database. The resume listed her acting classes and the teachers, but when the defense asked if they could enter the resume in order to demonstrate Lamb was lying, House refused.
Thus, House had a direct example of perjury in front of him, but refused to do anything, instead agreeing to hide the evidence from the jurors. To make matters even worse, Lamb’s daughter actually repeated some of her lines from the movies in which she had acted, as though they were legitimate legal testimony, thus solidifying what I had come to believe “Justice” in Catoosa County, Georgia, literally is out of the Theater of the Absurd.
(House had engaged in a lengthy phone conversation with Lamb a few days before she testified, which is a violation of judicial ethics, something he was bound by law to report to judicial authorities. Not surprisingly, the law was not applied in Georgia, and even when authorities were notified by others about this breach, they did nothing. The “lights went out in Georgia” a long time ago and apparently no one is interested in turning them on again.)
In Craft’s account, she describes her arrest, the pre-trial period, and then the trial itself. One would think she would have the incentive to use self-serving language, but her description of the trial and testimony is quite tame, given the fact that Brian House’s courtroom became what I called Perjury Central.
When Detectives Tim Deal and Stephen Keith of Catoosa County came to question her in 2008, both men insisted that she not contact an attorney. When she said she needed to call a lawyer, they accused her of not cooperating and claimed that she was demonstrating “proof” of her guilt. Craft stood her ground, and during the trial, prosecutor Len Gregor accused her of “not cooperating” because she got an attorney. House overruled the defense’s objections even though the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that every defendant has a right to counsel and that prosecutors are not permitted to claim that a defendant’s exercising of his or her Constitutional right to legal representation is a crime.
(To show how differently the state bar organizations in Georgia and North Carolina differ, when Duke prosecutor Michael Nifong told the media that if the players had not raped or assaulted anyone, then they didn’t need to get lawyers, the North Carolina State Bar filed charges against him that helped lead to his disbarment and removal from office. When I told one of the enforcement people at the Georgia State Bar that prosecutors accused Craft in open court of not cooperating because she got an attorney, the representative spat back at me, “He was just doing his job.”)
Craft’s account of the trial is to describe five weeks of an utter nightmare. Prosecution witnesses were permitted to change their stories, and often gave accounts that differed significantly from accounts they had given under oath in depositions just months earlier. One witness, Joal Henke, Tonya’s ex-husband who wanted custody of the children, one morning during testimony told the jury that he “just remembered” that very morning a supposed incident in which his wife had a lesbian affair with a mutual friend.
Understand that Henke never made any such claims in any pretrial meetings, either with the defense or with the prosecutors. It was not in any of the case files, nowhere. When the defense asked House to block the proposed testimony, House refused, saying that “previous bad acts” might be proof that Craft was a child molester, which meant that he was taking Henke’s 11th-hour, contrived testimony as Gospel truth. Likewise, Henke’s wife, Sarah soon found ways to embellish her own court testimony with material that she had previously denied had occurred when she testified under oath in a pre-trial deposition.
To give readers a sense of the utter absurdity of the trial, at least one of the 22 counts was dated to have occurred long before Craft even moved into the house where some of the “crimes” were alleged to have occurred, another family living in the house at the time. Yet, responding to the defense’s motion for a directed verdict, House upheld all 22 charges, claiming that the prosecution had presented substantial evidence of guilt. (Please keep in mind that jurors exposed to that same presentation already had concluded that the prosecutors and their gaggle of witnesses were telling lies.)
If I may put it so bluntly, House, Arnt and Gregor were attempting to rig the outcome. What they had not understood was that just because the jury members lived in Catoosa County did not mean that they believed everything a Catoosa County official told them was true, or that Catoosa County jurors were going to convict someone without evidence just because the judge and prosecutors told them to do so.
When Craft and her attorneys came into the courtroom to hear the verdict a day after jurors began deliberations, Arnt and Gregor looked at her and started snickering. A few minutes later, after the bailiff declared “not guilty” for each of the counts, the two prosecutors ran out of the room while House sat ashen-faced in his chair. Both men ran to their cars, with Gregor holding up his notebook to hide his face from news photographers. (A few days later, when Gregor was prosecuting a case in Trenton, Georgia, reporter Callie Starnes of WRCB-TV in Chattanooga tried to ask Gregor some questions. When he saw her, he turned and ran into the Dade County Courthouse without saying a word.)
If the “not guilty” verdict was satisfying, so was the aftermath of the trial. Despite resistance from government authorities who insisted that Craft could have only state-supervised visits with her children, Craft finally was able to strike an agreement with her ex-husband the following November to establish joint custody, and she finally was fully reunited with her children. As she writes in her book, she has been able to rebuild her relationships with her daughter and son and her family life is very strong.
There is much to take away from Accused. The first is that government officials at all level lie with impunity, and that government officials do not consider themselves bound by any laws. They do what they want as long as there is no accountability, and apparently no one from the FBI, the Georgia Attorney General’s office, to the Georgia State Bar, which allegedly disciplines attorneys, is interested in doing anything about the obvious lawbreaking that occurred right in front of them.
When Joal Henke gave his “I just remembered” testimony, the news reporters sitting in the next room roared with laughter (to the chagrin of the judge and prosecutors). In the custody hearing in November, Henke admitted under oath to having falsified a federal application for buying a house, which is a felony. Even when they had the evidence of criminal behavior plunked down in their laps, federal officials did nothing.
But the second thing one takes away is that for an innocent person falsely accused, there can be life after the ordeal. There is a saying that “the best revenge is living well,” and if that is true, then Tonya Craft has had her revenge fourfold. The book presents that picture, and being one who knows her and her friends, I can say that Tonya has been living well.
Since then, she has finished three years of a four-year law program and this past summer worked in the office of the district attorney in Hamilton County, Tennessee. That the DA of a county contiguous to the LMJC would have Craft on board and who had her scrutinizing cases involving alleged child sexual abuse tells us volumes about how people there view the situation. Tonya Craft was not only “not guilty,” she was innocent of the charges. Not only did the “evidence” – or lack, thereof – demonstrate that fact, but also how she has chosen to live her life since May 12, 2010.