Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Railroading of Tonya Craft

About 20 years ago, American prosecutors across the country were engaged in a large number of witch hunts, better known as the day care sex abuse hysteria. Innocent people found themselves charged with monstrous crimes of abusing dozens of children, and even though almost all of the charges were bogus and, indeed, ridiculous on their faces, compliant juries convicted them and judges sent them to prison for life.

Janet Reno, before she had the opportunity to murder 80 people at Waco while U.S. Attorney General, made her prosecutorial career in Miami, Florida, pushing these faux charges. (Hillary Clinton was the main force behind Reno becoming AG, as Clinton said that Reno was “good on children’s issues.” Indeed, that says more about Clinton than it does Reno, although Reno’s lies and legal abuses are well-documented in Dorothy Rabinowitz’s book, No Crueler Tyrannies.) 

After a while, these prosecutions fizzled out. The courts overturned most of the convictions, and after the fiasco in Wenatchee, Washington, in which the charges were so ridiculous that even the mainstream news media turned on the authorities, we heard little about these cases. Most of us who kept up with these police and prosecutorial abuses and outright lies told by government agents (none of whom ever was punished for their misdeeds) hoped that this sorry episode in U.S. History would fade like the Salem Witch Trials.
Unfortunately, we are seeing what could be the beginning of Round Two of this hysteria, and it is happening near where I grew up, Catoosa County, Georgia. (I grew up in neighboring Walker County, and both counties are contiguous to Hamilton County, where Chattanooga is located.) One would have hoped that the media had learned something – anything – after Round One of the hysteria, but as we have seen in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, the press still is utterly craven and wholly owned by police and prosecutors.

I give all of this as an introduction to the prosecution of Tonya Craft, an elementary schoolteacher in Chickamauga, Georgia, who on Monday, April 12, goes on trial for allegedly molesting young girls at her home during a sleepover for one of her children. I have followed this case at a distance, but the more I research it and the more I look into it, the more I get the sensation that I am peeling away the rotten skin of an even more rotten onion that is absolutely rancid at the core.

Before I go further, I point out that this case started with a flourish, as WTVC-TV in Chattanooga provided an absolute stinkbomb disguised as a “news” story. First, the reporter refers to a child as “the victim,” so there can be no doubt at all in this story where WTVC stands, as there is no “alleged” in there. (That was how the mainstream media covered the Duke case; Crystal Mangum from the beginning was the “rape victim,” not an accuser.)

When I was a newspaper reporter more than 30 years ago, our editors told us time and again that in a story in which someone is charged with a crime, we were to use “alleged” in every situation until there was a conviction or a guilty plea. There were no exceptions. Unfortunately, Channel 9 operates with much lower standards.

In this story, the reporter then goes to the office of the Chickamauga City Schools to demand Craft’s firing. (You really have to see the Youtube video here to get a picture of just how bad a broadcast this really is, and how it was utterly dishonest and prejudicial.)

While other news organizations in the Chattanooga area have done a somewhat better job, nonetheless no one is asking the very hard questions, which means that the prosecutor and the judge in this case are being given a free ride in their tag-team attempt to railroad Craft, when, they need to be ridden out of town on a rail. Let me explain.
First, while Tonya Craft might be portrayed as an unsympathetic person because she is on her third marriage, she has a lot of very loyal friends who have put together a number of fundraisers and who will vouch for her character. Another friend has put together a website, and others in the community have spoken out in Craft’s favor about the accusations.

Furthermore, there are a number of issues that the prosecution faces that simply don’t add up, and this is my second point, in which there already has been massive prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. The first red flag – and it is a huge one of Michael Nifongian proportions – has been the prosecution’s hiding of exculpatory evidence.

 Nifong’s case utterly fell apart when defense attorneys revealed in open court that Nifong had conspired with a forensic scientist, Brian Meehan, to hide evidence that would have been favorable to the defendants. The prosecution had claimed that such evidence did not exist and that they had turned over all relevant material to the defense when, in fact, that was not true, and Nifong paid for that lie by losing his law license. (He should have gone to prison, but because prosecutors generally are not held accountable for lying, it is virtually impossible for a prosecutor to be charged, convicted, and imprisoned no matter how bad his or her misconduct.)

In the Craft case, we see a similar situation, one that apparently Judge Brian House (more on him, later) has let slide. Some of the children attending the sleepover told police that nothing happened, which obviously would be of interest to the defense – and should be to the prosecution.

However, the way that prosecutor Chris Arnt handled this situation was to do the following: first, he told the police not to give any material to the defense. When the attorneys approached the police, they were told that Arnt had the material they were seeking. However, when the attorneys came to Arnt, he told him that material did not exist. (Arnt later was forced to admit that he did have that evidence, but the fact that he would lie about it at the beginning demonstrates just how far he is willing to go to have an innocent person convicted.)

When questioned about it, Arnt engaged in self-pity and more belligerence: 
Assistant DA Arnt told the judge he did give the sheriff and other witnesses such instructions, because he had told defense attorneys the information they wanted would be provided through the discovery process.  
“Instead, all we got was all these subpoenas,” he said angrily.
The judge in this case, Brian House, does not enter it with clean hands. First, and most important, he was the attorney for Craft’s first husband in their 1998 divorce. In other words, it was his job as an attorney to demonize Craft for the courts. There is no way that he cannot be prejudicial in this situation, not having opposed her directly in a court of law.

Second, there was a very disturbing exchange during a pre-trial hearing, as reported by The Chattanoogan:
If defense attorneys for former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher Tonya Henke Craft want to tell jurors a potential prosecution witness isn’t credible because she was prohibited from continuing to treat alleged victims after ignoring defense subpoenas, they’ll have to bring in the judge who removed her.
“You can bring (Hamilton County Circuit) Judge (Marie) Williams in here if you want to,” Superior Court Judge Brian House of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit in North Georgia ruled late Monday afternoon. “But (the therapist’s) credibility is a question for the jury, not for some judge in Tennessee.”
Given that House was licensed in Tennessee and practiced there before becoming a judge, he demonstrates a lack of respect toward a former colleague and a judge. Furthermore, judges are
supposed to vet the “expert witnesses,” not leave it up to juries to do that work. Juries are supposed to determine guilt and innocence, not credentials.

Third, House has ordered the ultimate pre-trial prosecutorial weapon to be put into place: a gag order. Now, prosecutors will claim that such an order binds them, but in reality, by the time the order has been set, the prosecution already has been able to get in its licks. As in the Duke case, where a gag order severely hamstrung the defense for several months, the purpose of this order was to keep Craft from defending herself, as it was issued just before she was to be interviewed on the air:
A former Chickamauga elementary school teacher scheduled to go on trial in Catoosa County Superior Court on March 15 for sexual abuse charges now faces a possible contempt citation and jail time for talking to reporters about the allegations against her. 

Tonya Henke Craft, accompanied by attorneys, was being interviewed on the radio shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday morning when she learned that a gag order had been issued prohibiting her from talking about the case. 

The gag order, signed March 3 by Superior Court Judge Brian House of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit in north Georgia, prohibits both Ms. Craft and her legal representatives from making or authorizing any statements to the news media.  
 So, when we have a judge with an obvious conflict of interest, the imposition of a gag order meant to quiet only the defense, and the hiding of exculpatory evidence by the prosecution, I am going to become very, very suspicious. However there is another reason that I believe that the charges are false and that this is a railroad job: her attorneys believe she is innocent.

At this point, someone will say, “Come on, Anderson. All attorneys think their clients are innocent.” That is not true, not by a long shot. The vast majority of people accused in state courts are guilty as charged, and most attorneys operate under that knowledge.

However, in my own conversations with lawyers, what I have found is that when they become convinced that their clients really are innocent, they become involved in their cases in a way they never will do for a person they believe to be guilty. And in this case, I know that the attorneys absolutely believe in Craft’s innocence. 

Now, I have not talked with any attorneys or anyone from the defense or anyone involved with the case. My sources have been outside that circle, but nonetheless I have written on legal issues for many years and I can smell a railroad, and I can read between the lines as to what attorneys are doing and saying. 

Fifth, Craft twice passed polygraph tests. During the early stages of the investigation, officials had hinted that if she took a lie detector test and passed, they would not press charges. However, the day she was to take the test, the police changed tactics and had her arrested, instead. 

In August, 2008, Craft and her attorneys employed the services of the highly-regarded polygraph examiner Charles E. Slupski, director of the American International Institute of Polygraph. She was given two tests, one pertaining to her child and one pertaining to the charges of molesting other children. She passed both tests.

Unfortunately, House would hear none of it. He denied a defense motion to have the results of the polygraph tests admitted into evidence and declared that he did not want to hear anything about a lie detector test during the trial.

I am very familiar with the previous hysteria trials and wrongful imprisonments and have written about them, especially about the case on the Edenton Seven, as well as a number of articles on the Duke case. The majority of the faux abuse cases came up because a parent of a child wanted to engage in score-settling, and the Craft case has plenty of that, as the original charges were brought by the mother of one of Craft’s former kindergarten students. (I do know more about this situation, but am not at liberty to say what it is, except to note that just as in the Edenton case, it all began with a vengeful parent making accusations that turned out to be false.)

As in the Duke case, the Craft charges are tied into what I call the “courthouse culture,” in which people who practice in particular counties tend to form cliques and to band together. In Durham, North Carolina, the “courthouse crowd” supported Nifong, not because they actually believed the charges were true, but rather because they knew they could be shut out of doing their work if they offended the wrong people.

For example, the late Kirk Osborn was the first attorney for Reade Seligmann, and he filed a motion to have Nifong removed as a prosecutor. He also put the exculpatory evidence for Seligmann on the Internet after Nifong refused even to glance at it. Nifong retaliated by telling prosecutors that no clients of Osborn would be permitted to engage in plea bargains, effectively cutting him off from almost all his clients in Durham County.

Likewise, my sense is that the Catoosa County courthouse crowd is not going to speak out and will support House and Arnt in whatever they do. Given the huge amount of negative pre-trial publicity that has attended this case, and because the prosecution will resort to the tried-and-true mantra of “Believe the children,” I suspect House and Arnt believe they can railroad through a conviction.

If that happens, I would not be surprised to see the conviction overturned on appeal, but by then the damage will have been done. Craft would have served many years in prison and likely would have been the target of physical attacks for being a “child molester.” The police, the judge, and the prosecution know this full well, and because none of them will face any sanctions no matter how much they lie or falsify material, they will do whatever they please.

Tonya Craft already has been ruined. She lost her job, has not seen her daughter for two years (she has supervised visits with her son), has lost her home, and has had to endure the kind of stress since she was charged two years ago that takes years off one’s life. In that sense, Arnt and House already have won, for their purpose all along has been to ruin a life, which is what prosecutors do when they go after an innocent person.

Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to stop this judicial juggernaut. Craft will be facing trial next week and I only hope she is found not guilty. However, just the fact that she has been charged as a child molester has taken its toll on her life. The prosecution knows it, the judge knows it, the media knows it, but who cares of an innocent life is ruined? 

However, as we have seen countless times before, the media always is ready to run over the cliff with the prosecutors, and no matter how many times the prosecution is discredited, there always is another reporter ready to serve as a PR mouthpiece for a dishonest state official. And it always will be that way, for like the Bourbons, the media learn nothing, and they forget nothing.


Neil said...

Interesting post. I always thought about what I would do if I was falsely accused of a crime and asked by the police to undergo a polygraph examination. After reading this post, I think I would refuse. Besides the fact that I have little faith in a machine's ability to determine if someone is actually lying, it is solely the state's discretion to either discard or include the results of the polygraph, even if they are the ones who requested the test. If the judge has a bias against the accused, and the accused passes the polygraph, then he can simply render the results inadmissable in court. One can't help but wonder if Judge House would have allowed the results if the polygraph had determined that Tonya was lying. Thanks for following this story.

Skrag said...

Perhaps because this occured in Chickamauga, or because of the gruesome nature of what Ms. Craft has and will have to go through, this reminded me of Ambrose Bierce's short story Chickamauga.

dc.sunsets said...

To me, people understand their world only through (largely fictional) narratives that describe reality in terms of morality plays. This allows judges, prosecutors, reporters, and observers to populate the ranks of "the bad guys" with whoever happens to be handy. The people perpetrating these judicial crimes do not see themselves as villains, any more that did Adolph Hitler. Even if they have to invent "facts" from whole cloth to fit their mental narrative, that narrative is an Epic Poem where they are the hero and those whose faces they tread are, by definition, enemies. It's a uniquely human disease.

Jimmy Espy said...

Three years ago Channel 9 presented a series of unsubstantiated, horrendously reported stories about an alleged cancer cluster in Dalton, Ga. I called the station and tried to speak to the reporter but was told she could not talk to me. I then talked to the news "executive" in charge at the station. His comments showed a remarkable ignorance about how to report a medical story and a major streak of conspiracy theory paranoia. I was amazed at how badly the story was done. Channel 9 is a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for seeing this clearly for Tonya! It is gratifying to know Tonya supporters are not too close to the issue to still see this situation for what it really os...a railroading! Now how can we get this story brought out to a national newsbroadcaster?

William L. Anderson said...

Good question regarding getting it to a national broadcast. Unfortunately, it does not have the "ingredients" to turn it into a national story, but I am going to do my best to get it out there as far as I can.

The charges are ridiculous and downright evil.

Anonymous said...

Her first husband was a lazy drunk, and her second one could not be faithful, as that was his undoing...

tandt said...

I am a Catoosa County resident & have seen & experienced both sides of the good 'ol boy network here. It is very sad. I do not know Tonya, but have many friends who are very dear friends of hers. I decided to look at every angle of this case (that we are allowed to see & know), and am sickened at what she has been through. You are exactly right, she will never get her life back no matter the outcome. We have put her in our prayers that she will be found not guilty and that House and Arnt will be punished for what they have done. Also, as far as Channel 9 goes, they are the worst. They "covered a story" at my workplace a couple of years ago & it was all lies and their intent was to stir up controversy and racial tension. Unfortunately, they succeeded for a short time, but then something really big happened with the case & oddly enough, they were the only ones who did not cover that part. The saddest part, is one of their reporters is a very old & dear friend of ours, but we never hesitate to tell him exactly what we think and that we do not & will not watch their lies.
Keep up the good work & help fight the good fight. When this happens on either side of the law, it is sickening.
I would love to see this go national (I normally can not stand to see when our local events go national) & hopefully she will at least be able to live her life as a free woman.

Shop the AV said...

Best of luck to Tonya Craft.

The problem, as I see it, with both the judicial system and the media, is that the "rewards" of a conviction, or breaking a story, outweigh the risks of being found to be lying.

In the example of Nifong, for instance, had he won the case he would've been coveted as a celebrity and risen to, who knows, Presidential material? Not to mention the riches that would go hand-in-hand.
Meanwhile, the Duke players would've been behind bars for the greatest part of their lives.

The risk, on the other hand, being disbarred and spending ONE DAY in jail.

We would not be seeing this type of "railroading" if those in authority were to be held to a higher standard.

When a prosecutor, judge, reporter, or whoever, is found to be twisting facts in order to serve his/her own, selfish, aspirations, then he/she should be sentenced to do the time that was allotted for their "victim(s)".

Great work, Mr. Anderson. Please stay on it.

Anonymous said...

About 20 years ago, American prosecutors across the country were engaged in a large number of witch hunts.

Kind of sounds like what you are doing with this post considering there has not been testimony given yet. said...

I would like to speak to you about an injustice in Hamilton county, TN. Please contact me @ 423-544-8566.
Greg Owens
I have transcipts of Judge, Prosceutor, and so called defense attorney, Jerry Summers where in a bench conference Judge Meyers states no crime was committed and Jerry Summers calls himself incompetent. But I was convicted. There is a lot more to this and I have found no media outlet that will give me a voice. I would appreciate anything that you can do to bring this to the public's attention.
Sincerely, Greg Owens

Anonymous said...

American prosecutors across the country were engaged in a large number of witch hunts.

I find this interesting because this post was created before any evidence has been presented.

tandt said...

Anon 11:07,

You are apparently trying to get a point across. Sadly, there is no point. The reason why Mr. Anderson brought all of this to light was to show the actual witch hunt and the lack of evidence. So far, your prosecution has presented zero evidence. So what if this was blogged before the trial began? Everything in here has been nothing but truth. Is that what scares you? Are you afraid on the real Judgement Day before our Lord that you will be judged for your lies in this case? Obviously you are either a "witness" or part of the family. I hope your IP address is discovered and you are found to be in violation of the gag order. Well, not that it matters because only the defense has to hold up to that. Good luck with the rest of your life. A life built on lies and deceit. Because I am a better person, I do pray that none of these children ever have to go through an actual assault. They are "victims", of their parents, the CAC, the prosecution and the judge. May God be with them.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you are either a "witness" or part of the family.

I'm of neither and I'm not a friend of hers either. Just like to hear the evidence before I make a decision unlike a lot of you. Since you brought it up please tie in the conspiracy for me: their parents, the CAC, the prosecution and the judge. There must be a real agreement with the parties having agreed all the major details of the "crime". I read all these posts about collusion but no facts are presented. If you can make that connection I might think she is innocent, until then I want to hear both sides.

tandt said...

Day 10......where's the evidence???? How many witnesses have they gone through? If you aren't either of those 2, then what about a friend of the accusers?
Look at everything. Not just this blog, but the daily court proceedings, all of the articles, all of the testimony. Can you truly not see it or do you wish to turn a blind eye & pretend like it's not happening? Whoever you are, I am a victim of a violent sexual crime, so one would think that I would say guilty, now prove your innocence! But all of the truths point to innocence & all the lies from the prosecution's side point to innocence.

May God bless you and keep you.

Kathy R said...

Anon 3:47 Innocent until proven quilty or did u go to law school with Arnt and House.

suetiggers said...

Few know/care that these laws are not protecting children one whit more. But they have hurt many men who aren't dangerous.The hysteria feeds false accusations. My son Ken's story is one.But I've learned there are too many more.I've worked years in Child Protective Services on child sexual abuse cases&theres another side to these stories. Because of a few heinous sex abuse cases by strangers, the laws now have MOSTLY men who are on the registries who aren't dangerous, &especially not to children. Few people believe a child would lie about sex. But, I saw cases of belligerent teens who lied to get back at a father or stepfather. And,an eight-year old girl lied about my mentally ill son. When she lied, this was suggested to her&encouraged by two adult women who did not like my son's looks or personality. Because of his illness, he was too friendly, too trusting w/people, he did not take care of his teeth& he had very bad acne. When this child lied, everyone listened. Now she has grown up,recanted, but few listen. She ended up giving a very strong deposition. This had much in it about how her grandmother & a nosy neighborhood watchperson gave her the idea because they didn't like my son's looks (he had very bad acne and teeth .Ken was/is phobic about dentists&had severe acne Marian grew up in a family/neighborhood filled w/prostitution and drugs. She had 3 criminal uncles living with her. Her older sister, who my naive son was in love with, was a prostitute and drug addict. This girls' mother was a prostitute/ drug addict.(now both dead of o'd's) Lying was a way of life in this girls' family/neighborhood.People bragged about putting people away by lying.In her deposition, Marian talked about trying to think about ways to get my son away from her sister; she was so jealous that he took this sister, who she was very close to, away from her.She said, her grandmother &the other woman gave her the idea.She said if anyone ever asked her to take a lie detector test, she would;vetold the truth.She was scared of going to court. Ken’s lawyer,knew my son's looks would hurt him made him believe that an Alford plea was his only option. The states' attorney said my son looked "wierd"too &he was so aggressive in going after my son that Ken’s first atty.said that she thought he “hates your son”. So, an attractive but lying child looked innocent &an unattractive but innocent man took a plea because it seemed there was no choice. Everyone listened when the girl lied.Few care now that she is finally telling the truth. My son has always been a gentle, good person who was taken advantage of by others because of his naiveté’ about people. help us change the laws: