[Update: Thursday, August 19, 2010, 12:35 PM]: Just a reminder for all the readers to vote for Leah and Russell! (Yes, it is called "stuffing the ballot box," but since everyone else is stuffing the box, we might as well do it better!) [End Update]
In an email the other day from someone who seems to believe Tonya Craft was guilty, he laid out the issue of what we call the "O.J. Verdict." According to people like Sandra Lamb, Sherry and Dewayne Wilson, Buzz Franklin and others in the LMJC, jurors rejected a "mountain of evidence" that "proved" Tonya's guilty and acquitted her on (at best) flawed beliefs that she did not "look like a child molester."
Before dealing with this question, however, I need first to deal with, well, the O.J. verdict. As readers know, O.J. Simpson was acquitted in October 1995 of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman in a gruesome stabbing at Nicole's Los Angeles home. As the story goes, the mostly-black jury, after being presented with almost incontrovertible evidence of Simpson's guilt after six months of trial, engaged in what some have called "jury nullification" to acquit him of all charges.
Unfortunately, the whole thing was pictured in a black-white perspective (a mainstream media favorite topic) in which blacks were seen as celebrating the verdict and whites were dismayed. Certainly we saw these pictures on the news, so there was some truth to the reports of the divide. However, we have to understand that no matter what some people might think -- that American blacks were celebrating a black celebrity getting away with murdering white people -- the truth was that the black press and blacks in general looked carefully at how the "evidence" was collected and presented.
The standard for a guilty verdict is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," not, "We think he might have done it." Shortly after the verdict, I was speaking to an older African-American man in a grocery line in Auburn, Alabama (where I was going to graduate school), about the case and he asked me if I thought Simpson was guilty. I told him I did not know, but that I believed the defense had established reasonable doubt.
No, I do not believe it was a "jury nullification" situation. As one white juror told researchers later, he went into the jury room not convinced Simpson was guilty, but wondered if he was the only one thinking that. I do believe that the prosecution did a miserable job, and there were enough questions about the prosecutors' tactics to give jurors the reasons for the decision they reached.
Let us turn to the jury's decision in Tonya Craft's case. Franklin's post-verdict statement (which violated the Georgia State Bar's Rules of Conduct) claimed that Ms. Craft actually was guilty, but that jurors were guilty if not of misconduct, then of terrible judgment.
(Franklin claimed that the reason jurors voted to acquit was because some of them did not think Ms. Craft "looked like a child molester," and that the jury was not convinced because there were no "videotapes, confession or physical evidence." Jurors who spoke to the media after the trial did not mention any of these things, and especially the latter. Instead, they noted that there were huge gaps in the prosecution's "evidence," and that prosecutors were acting like bullies and the judge was openly biased in favor of conviction. Jurors also noticed that the CAC "expert" witnesses for the prosecution acted like disrespectful, spoiled teenagers whenever defense counsel cross-examined them, while the defense "experts" acted like adults and clearly were more credible than the eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging, openly-sighing CAC gang.)
There is another huge difference between Tonya Craft's trial and the O.J. Simpson affair: with the Simpson case, there were two dead people. In Tonya's case, however, there are real questions about whether or not there was any molestation at all. Having examined the timelines, the police notes, and the interviews the three children had with the police and the CAC "interviewers," I and others are convinced that there was no molestation at all.
As I see it, not only was there "reasonable doubt" for Tonya's supposed guilt, but there also was "reasonable doubt" as to whether or not molestation even happened, which was a double-whammy for the prosecution. In that sense, Buzz Franklin was right; child molesting is not likely to be on videotape.
Keep in mind that the charges against Tonya Craft did not arise from the children, and the interview transcripts with Stacy Long and Suzi Thorne demonstrate this very well. Instead, they arose from an atmosphere of score-settling, as the Wilsons already had said they would get revenge on her for Tonya's recommendation that their child not be promoted to first grade. (Ms. Craft already had experienced a falling out with Sandra Lamb over a dispute at the birthday party of Ms. Craft's daughter.)
When one add Joal Henke's decision to try to get revenge for Tonya's objections to Henke's wife, Sarah, showering with Ms. Craft's daughter, it is clear that the atmosphere absolutely was poisonous. Furthermore, these are the very kind of people who gladly would bring false charges against someone else.
The second point about this group of people is that they are well-connected to police and prosecutors. For example, in her complaint against Eric Echols, Lamb lists Chris Arnt as her "attorney friend" who was advising her in what actually was a civil case. (Arnt allegedly told Lamb that she did not have to accept a subpoena in a civil case, which is bad legal advice, and especially bad for Arnt, since he stepped outside of his role as a prosecutor, which would raise questions about his immunity protections.) Thus, it was not hard to get these people to act against Tonya Craft, and since the LMJC personnel really are a law unto themselves, there was no risk or downside, in their view.
There is one other important point, and that was the sheer volume of perjury that prosecution witnesses committed, as well as the deliberate attempt by Arnt and Gregor to misrepresent the defense's expert witnesses during the closing statements. I am speaking of Lamb's denial on the stand that her daughter had taken acting lessons, Kelly McDonald's "power bill" perjury, the "hand rape" lies told by Lamb, her daughter, Tim Deal and Suzi Thorne, not to mention the lies that Joal and Sarah Henke told under oath.
Had the prosecutors really believed they had the "slam dunk" case they claimed before trial, then why all the subornation of perjury? Why the fabrication of documents, why the "Animal House" behavior, and why the lies at closing?
I find it interesting that "judge" Brian Outhouse kept out reams of exculpatory evidence, and he also kept out material that would have demonstrated Lamb was lying about her daughter's acting lessons, the Wilson power bill lies, the questionable (at best) Deal documents, not to mention the material from Dr. Ann Hazzard regarding her interviews with Tonya's daughter. Nor were jurors able to see any of the information that came from Eric Echols' investigation because of the trumped-up charges that "Alberto-Facebook" Arnt and his pals from the LMJC cooked up.
In other words, the jury was not permitted to see material that would have case even more doubt on the state's case, yet Franklin, Deal, most LMJC judges and employees, Arnt, Gregor, Lamb and her little friends all are crying that this was an "O.J. Verdict." Outhouse gave the prosecutors pretty much everything they wanted and still it was obvious that the case was a lie.
Following his acquittal, O.J. Simpson's life went downhill and he finally self-destructed and now is in prison, where he likely will remain for the rest of his life. In Tonya Craft's case, Ms. Craft is doing pretty well, but I would not be surprised to see the main players on the prosecution's side have some sorry turns in their lives down the road. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Character is fate," and I think that in this situation, Fitzgerald's words are going to be proven true.