As we look over the materials in our possession, there is one thing that is front-and-center: the authorities had decided beforehand that they were going to find a way to charge Tonya Craft with child molestation. They had no real evidence of such, but it is absolutely clear that the police, the parents, and the “investigators” from the Children’s Advocacy Centers that they were going to find whatever they needed.
Such “investigations” are doomed from the start, should the supposed goal of an investigation be to find the truth. However, if the people guiding the investigation from the start have decided beforehand what the outcome is going to be, then “truth” is whatever they want it to be, and that is what we saw in the Tonya Craft case.
“It didn’t fit their theory”
When Dr. Nancy Aldridge testified for the defense, on May 3, she was asked about the interviewing techniques of the children, especially from Thorne and Stacy Long. At best, Dr. Aldridge note, they were “inappropriate” at best and misleading at worse. The interviewers broke all of the rules of forensic interviewing. In looking at what Dr. Aldridge said and what Dr. Walker wrote in her paper, the following things should be avoided if the goal of the interviewer is to wish to get at the truth:
- The interviews should not be long, and there needs to be a lag of several days between interviews. The “rule of thumb” is five minutes for each of the child’s years. Thus, a six-year-old child would be interviewed at the maximum for 30 minutes;
- Interviewers should not ask the same questions repeatedly to a young child, as it sends the message that the child is giving the “wrong” answer;
- An interview of a child should not be an interrogation, and the child should not be asked “leading,” “inappropriate,” or “suggestive” questions that either plant an idea in the child’s mind or attempts to do so;
- Parents should not be asking their children investigative questions or be trying to plant ideas in their minds about alleged incidents;
- The interviewer should conduct the proceedings with an "open mind," as opposed to demonstrating a bias from the start.
An interviewer who completes an assessment using faulty or problematic techniques risks having the evidence thrown out of court -- and appropriately so. No interview is perfect, of course, and interview evidence should not be ruled inadmissible simply because of a few harmless errors. Instead, courts should use standards for evaluating the probative value of forensic interviews. These standards will assist the court in ruling on the admissibility of the interview evidence and in determining the weight to be accorded that evidence.Anyone who followed the Tonya Craft case knows that the CAC/Greenhouse interviewers failed to follow any of the protocols. In fact, when the defense asked Stacy Long about suggestive questioning, she laughed and replied, “So what?” In fact, not one CAC interviewer even admitted to reading any of the current or relevant literature and Thorne told the defense she was not aware of the infamous McMartin case, which more than any other event was responsible for clinical psychologists to find ways of properly interviewing young children in these types of situations.
(I recently spoke to Ione Sells, director of the CAC in Fort Oglethorpe, and I was surprised at her arrogance and her belief that her organization really did not have to play by the rules. When I asked about Dr. Aldridge, she hinted to me that she believed that Dr. Aldridge lied on the stand, and when I reminded her that Dr. Aldridge mostly had testified for the prosecution, Sells replied, "She has not testified for the prosecution since 2007." The whole thing reminded me of the scene in the movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in which the character played by Humphrey Bogart asks bandits claiming to be Federales to show their badges. One bandit replies: “Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.”)
As for the interview process, a review of the transcripts of interviews that Long and Thorne had with Sandra Lamb’s daughter and Tonya Craft’s daughter demonstrate a number of conclusive things:
- The interviews were quite long and involved, and Lamb’s daughter was interviewed twice in the same day, morning and afternoon;
- Both Long and Thorne repeatedly asked the same question, with Thorne asking the Lamb child 16 times, “Is there anything else?"
- Long, after a break, came back that afternoon and asked the Lamb child about Tonya giving the child a bath. No one had brought up baths, and certainly not the girl. However, once it became clear that the girl received affirmation for saying what the adults wanted her to say, she went along. As for the questioning of Tonya’s daughter by Thorne, it is clear, absolutely clear, that this was not an interview; it was an interrogation, and this fact is obvious just from a reading of the transcript. For example, on a number of occasions, when the child said something that disagreed with Thorne’s line of questioning, Thorne would ask, “No?” in a way that clearly indicated that the child was giving the wrong answer.
- Numerous times during the interviews of both the Lamb child and Tonya’s daughter, the children would say that they got answers from parents, the Lamb girl her mother and Tonya’s child, her father, Joal Henke. Furthermore, during his trial testimony, Henke denies having told his daughter that Tonya “had lied to the police,” even though the girl stated firmly that she had received that notion from her father. To make matters worse, the phone records show conclusively that Sandra Lamb and Joal Henke had numerous phone calls clustered around the dates of the interviews, and that on several occasions, the parents would call the police or the CAC to say that the children “had more to tell.”
- It absolutely is clear that Long and Thorne were doing everything to steer the children into making sexual abuse accusations against Tonya. They did not even have a “theory” about Tonya Craft’s guilt; to them, it already was an established fact, and it was their job to manipulate the children into making the accusations they wanted to hear.
Thus, anything that did not fit the “Tonya Did It Theory” was discarded or hidden, which was why prosecutors fought so hard to have every scrap of exculpatory evidence excluded from Ms. Craft’s trial. The testimony was, in the terms of clinical psychologists well versed in these matters, “contaminated.” It also explains why “judge” Brian House had one set of rules for the prosecution and another, more draconian, for the defense.
While defense attorney Dr. Demosthenes Lorandos was questioning Dr. Aldridge, he noted that Lamb’s daughter had said in an interview that her mother told her where she was “touched.” When asked why the police, CAC interviewers, and prosecution did not take a hard look at that statement and recognize the red flags it had sent up, Dr. Aldridge replied, “It didn’t fit with their theory.”
I have seen police and prosecutors do this before, and with tragic results. The infamous Duke Lacrosse Case is defined by the dishonest means that former (and now disbarred) prosecutor Michael Nifong used to hide exculpatory evidence.
At least no one went to prison in the Duke case. In Larimer County, Colorado, Tim Masters was convicted in 1999 of a murder he did not commit because police and prosecutors became convinced he was the killer and were willing to lie to prove it. Masters’ subsequent exoneration cost Fort Collins nearly $10 million in settlements and the lead detective in the case recently was indicted on eight counts of felony perjury for his false testimony in Masters’ trial.
The real tragedy here – and for the numerous cases like this nationwide – is that the authorities in so many situations no longer care about the truth. They have decided upon their own “truth,” and it does not matter whether the facts fit the situation. People in the United States go to prison now because the authorities either are too ignorant or too craven, or both, and for every Tonya Craft who goes free, many more are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.