The Tonya Craft Case: The Mask Slips Off

Law

For the most part, our criminal justice system does an adequate job of creating a minimally credible appearance of due process and the rule of law. Judges grant the occasional defense motion, some stupendously ridiculous prosecutorial demands are rebuffed, and the judiciary even occasionally holds the state accountable for its own misconduct.

When kids are involved, though, all bets are off. The mask slips away, and the system is revealed at its worst: as a mechanism to accept, uncritically, the demands and accusations of the state, and to evade such impediments as the rule of law may pose to putting somebody in jail.

Over the last two years, Tonya Craft learned that the hard way. Yesterday she was acquitted of multiple counts of child molestation, demonstrating that juries can still occasionally serve their historical function as a buffer between the state and the individual. That's a victory. But the sweetness of the victory cannot cover the foul taste of the pervasive, terrifying, and contemptible behavior of the prosecution and its lapdog on the bench in this case. Tonya Craft was subjected to a Kafkaeque travesty of justice, and has emerged with her freedom, but with not much else.

You can't talk about the Tonya Craft case without talking about the work of William Anderson, who has covered the case in great detail. Anderson is to the Craft case what K.C. Johnson was to the Duke Lacrosse case: a relentless citizen journalist devoting substantial time and skill to documenting government misconduct. I won't just regurgitate his work here. Visit his blog yourself, including his open letter to Tonya Craft after her aquittal, or read Gideon's summary or this post at Change.org or this one at Cato@Liberty.

I can't even summarize the damn thing without raising my blood pressure to vision-blurring levels. Let me just give you some highlights:

1. Judge Brian House, the prosecutorial lapdog in question, refused to recuse himself even though he had represented Tanya Craft's ex-husband in their divorce action. In other words, the sitting judge was previously an advocate against the defendant. This might explain why he vigorously suppressed and disallowed exculpatory evidence and testimony, while letting the prosecution levy every marginal, prejudicial, and inflammatory attack on Tonya Craft (for instance, by focusing on her having consensual affairs with adults).

2. The prosecution team, Len Gregor and Chris Arnt, openly and contemptuously committed egregious misconduct throughout the proceedings, with what amounted to the encouragement of Judge Brian House. That misconduct included suppression of exculpatory evidence, subornation of perjury, harassment of witnesses, open appeals to racism and sexism, unprofessional attacks on the defense team (and, really, on the entire concept of a defendant being entitled to a defense), unprofessional public statements about the case (like the Facebook post you see below, upon which friendly potential trial witnesses commented), breathtaking closing argument abuse, and a list of other conduct too disgusting and lengthy to set forth here.

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3. The prosecution relied upon, and Judge Brian House allowed, the sort of junk advocacy-science that makes many child abuse cases so dangerous and unjust: "child advocates" whose explicit role is to interrogate children until they make accusations of child abuse, and to explain away any inconsistent statements.

So, Tonya Craft escapes with her freedom, but with very little of her life left. Think it couldn't possibly happen to you? You're wrong, especially where kids are involved. The mere accusation of child abuse makes us go nuts. We live in a society that sentences a woman to life in prison for making a 13-year-old boy touch her clothed breast. We live in a society where proponents of censorship utterly unrelated to child abuse understand how they can manipulate our hysteria about children to promote broader censorship:

"Child pornography is great," the speaker at the podium declared enthusiastically. "It is great because politicians understand child pornography. By playing that card, we can get them to act, and start blocking sites. And once they have done that, we can get them to start blocking file sharing sites".

We live in a society that has stopped having ridiculous show-trials for "witches" centuries ago, but has had a century of equally hysterical, equally inquisitorial, equally unjust, and equally preposterous show-trials of suspected "ritual" child molesters. Ask John Stoll. Ask the McMartins. Ask the Amiraults. It can happen to you, as surely as you can be struck by lightening. It can happen to anyone so long as we, as a society, allow the mere allegation of a threat to children to utterly unbalance us, eviscerate our critical faculties, and make us eager to abandon our commitment to the rule of law. It can happen as long as we tolerate (and even applaud) prosecutors like Len Gregor and Chris Arnt and pseudo-judges like Brian House.

One of the best legacies we can leave our children is a system of justice that takes rights, and due process, seriously. One of the worst bequests we could make is a system that abandons even the pretense of fairness upon an accusation of child abuse. Shame on us if we are willing to destroy our children's world in order to save it.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

19 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Brian Dunbar  •  May 12, 2010 @11:31 am

    It can happen to you, as surely as you can be struck by lightening.

    When I was a youth group sponsor at Church … open doors, always. Never alone with a kid, ever. Two adults with the kids, always.

    What really made me nervous was attending the diocese's mandated training. The facilitator was very clear that any legal problems we had while doing youth group activities would not be covered by the church.

    "So .. if we get sued while volunteering for the church and doing good works .. we're on our own?"

    "Yes. Sorry."

  2. Pat MacDonald  •  May 12, 2010 @11:32 am

    Great article!

  3. Erica  •  May 12, 2010 @1:29 pm

    I just don't understand how history can repeat itself with almost no deviation from the past witch-hunts without people realizing it. This was a witch hunt, through and through, which was obvious to a casual observer. Why was it so hard for those involved to step back and see it? Poor woman.

    I feel horrible in advance for my children and children's children in anticipation of all the other atrocities we committed in the past which are no doubt going to pop up again since humans have shown that we don't learn from our mistakes.

  4. William Anderson  •  May 12, 2010 @1:34 pm

    Thanks for the kind words regarding my blog. I think that what happened was that the judge slapped down a gag order to shut up Ms. Craft, who was defending herself in a public forum. That made me pretty upset, so I figured that if Judge House was going to gag her, well, I was NOT going to gag myself.

    This case, as you accurately point out was a farce, a sham, and a travesty. Furthermore, it involved illegal collaboration between the judge and the prosecutors, who truly were liars and bullies. There were crimes committed, but they were done by state agents, not Tonya Craft!

  5. Jack Marshall  •  May 12, 2010 @10:02 pm

    Obviously the verdict was correct; there is no way guilt could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And it certainly looks like there was egregiously bad judging and prosecutorial misconduct. But the conclusion that Craft must be innocent rests on some dubious factors. Other child molestation cases have been bogus? True: that doesn't mean this one was. She passed two polygraphs? Meaningless. Polygraphs are the ultimate junk technology. Her attorneys really, really believed she was innocent? So what? Maybe she didn't tell them everything. I don't see how anyone can be 100% certain that she was wrongly accused. Unfairly prosecuted, yes.

  6. Base of the Pillar  •  May 13, 2010 @6:44 am

    Are you proposing that we cast a wary, Simpson-esque eye on a woman against whom no good evidence was ever produced? A woman against whom clear prosecutorial and judicial misconduct occurred? What must we do to allow the poor woman to be free and clear of the charges that rose to no level of support? Are you really quibbling that this is a case of acquittal but not true innocence? If so, upon what do you actually base that?

  7. Ken  •  May 13, 2010 @6:58 am

    Jack, I suspect it's rare that we can ever be 100% certain that someone did not do that of which they were accused.

    But here, as you can see if you review the underlying data, the accusations rely heavily on child interview techniques that are heavily discredited and likely to coerce untrue testimony. In short, I don't see anything upon which to base a reasonable belief in her guilt.

  8. Doug  •  May 14, 2010 @2:12 pm

    Mr. Anderson's blog about the trial was a little hard to navigate, I did see the defense accuse the judge of bias in that he represented the ex husband years before in her divorce. The judge basically ignored that. That is bad. It looks like (from what I read) that the interview techniques were very suggestive in favor of a molestation. From my experience in viewing such tapes, a child who has been molested says and graphically demonstrates it with very little questioning. Yet, here it really looks like that all three kids were interviewed in a suggestive manner. That technique is just bogus. Why we can't be certain that she did not commit these crimes, we can be certain that the jury does not think she did.

  9. SG  •  May 15, 2010 @7:36 am

    Bravo, Ken. What good is a justice system that takes such unjust steps because it wants to make sure children can grow up unmolested and untraumatised… only to be unjustly tried and harassed when they become adults ?

    Indeed, as you said, if to "protect the childruuuuun" you're endangering their future as adults, then you're doing it really, really wrong.

  10. R Wayne  •  May 18, 2010 @3:52 am

    What I always think every time I read of such a case (depressing that we hear of it so much in this country) is this: Why does society get so much satisfaction in thinking they are protecting children when, in the process, they are crucifying adults with such inhuman injustice and destruction? I understand that corrupt prosecutors and judges are doing it for their own personal political advancement but what about society as a whole? Why do we condone this behavior? Do we not understand that we hurting our children as well as grown people with this injustice? I understand that in our estimation the harming of a child is worse than the harming of an adult but that doesn't lessen the injustice of the harm the falsely accused adults are experiencing in these cases. We like to talk about the defenselessness of the child in defending our opinions in such cases but think of it: How much defense does a common adult person have against the power of the state when they are falsely accused of such despicable crimes? There isn't really a lot of difference in levels of defenselessness when you read of those falsely accused who have been jailed for years, lost everything including their earthly possessions, their families, reputation, businesses and even their children all as a result of being accused and prosecuted for a crime that did not happen. It is a blight on our society every bit as shameful as the Salem witch trials in the past.

    I love kids having had four of my own but I would never seriously consider being a school teacher or working with kids in any serious way due to the fear of being falsely accused. And I have heard and read countless others say they very same thing. How does creating this situation in our society help our children or even our society as a whole? I don't think it does and it needs to end now!

    However, until society begins to reward these dishonest judges and prosecutors as they deserve the situation will continue.

  11. Federale  •  May 18, 2010 @12:11 pm

    Open appeals to racism? Sort of like the OJ Dream Team?

  12. Ken  •  May 18, 2010 @12:16 pm

    That depends on how you define "open appeals to racism", Federale. The "OJ Dream Team," among other things, pointed out that one of the lead investigators routinely used racial epithets.

  13. Truth Finder  •  Jun 12, 2010 @5:01 pm

    To Jack Marshall regarding your question of Tonya Craft's true innocence. I do hope you have followed up with research over the last month since the trial ended. I do hope you have read the transcripts from the "interviews" (I can not use that term with good faith) that were conducted with at least one of the children. I do hope you read the transcripts between the P.I. Eric Echols & accuser #2's father. Wow, I know I'm hoping for a lot from someone who obviously a month ago had not truly researched this case, but I pray you have since. Her innocence is so obvious that it breaks people's hearts. People who were on the fence, have realized that Mrs. Craft was not only innocent, but someone you would want your children to have as a teacher & a friend. If you haven't researched, I beg of you to & I hope you see what most of us have known all along, she is INNOCENT.

  14. Truth Seeker  •  Jun 21, 2010 @11:58 pm

    Yes, there were mistakes all over this trial. I have in all my years have never seen such misleading statements by bloggers, media, and Craft supporters. Victims in this case were not heard. We did not hear of the harrassment these victims endured in this community. Being ran off the road and things such as this. Nor did we hear of the 4th victim that backed out due to harrassments of this nature. We did hear about Craft supporters being "stalked". Yes there is more to this case than meets the eye. This case should have been moved to another county way on down the road. Period. That would have been a fair trial. Not only for Craft but the victims as well. As it stands now, nobody, and I mean nobody, can really say she is guilty or innocent. I don't care how well you know her. What does a molestor look like? They can be fathers, grandfathers,uncles, priests, pastors, neighbors and yes woman.(mothers, aunts, teachers,grandmothers,etc.)
    People in general do not understand child molestation cases. Your not always going to have a smoking gun such as DNA and things of this nature. Defense lawyers know this. It comes down to child's word verses the one being accused. The longer the case goes, the more the child forgets. This helps them look like they are lying on the stand or inconsistant. And it is always, always the parents or someone put them up to it or coached them. In this case, before the first victim took the stand, I knew Craft would be found innocent. Not because of her being innocent, but because of the media circus around it. People not even knowing Craft running down to the court house sporting yellow(Craft's favorite color that would now make a victim sick when she sees it) because of what someone told them, they read on a blog, or because they don't like the court system. Yes, it was the biggest Ho down you have ever seen. Which brings me to another point of all these people being allowed in the court room wearing yellow. If I were a juror and seeing this, and I was not reading or watching the news on this case, would make me wonder what they know that I don't. Fair trial. No. Not for anyone. So looking at so many things about this trial, including transcripts, and things surrounding it. I still cannot say Craft is innocent or guilty.

  15. Snooder  •  Jul 25, 2011 @2:53 pm

    Yeah Truth Seeker, that's kinda the point.

    When something comes down to "he said, she said" and you aren't really sure whether the guy (or gal) did it or not, the law and our system of justice requires acquittal. That's what "innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" mean.

    And maybe that sucks for the victim not to ever really know if the guy who did it goes to jail. But guess what, the justice system is not and never has been about the victim. It's about the guy sitting in the defendant's chair who is presumptively innocent and needs all the protection that our laws can give him.

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