published Thursday, April 15th, 2010

First child testifies in molestation case

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RINGGOLD, Ga. -- A child witness in the trial of a former kindergarten teacher charged with child molestation stumbled Wednesday over how many times she allegedly was molested before blurting out "six or more times" in cross-examination.

"How come it went from 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure' to 'six or more times'?" defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos asked the 9-year-old girl.

The child's response was brief.

"Because I just remembered," she said.

Mr. Lorandos, one of the attorneys representing former Chickamauga Elementary School Tonya Craft, spent most of Wednesday cross examining the first of three alleged victims.

Ms. Craft faces 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation. Her trial began this week in Catoosa County Superior Court.

It is Times Free Press policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assault. None of the children will be identified, and certain details will not be disclosed to protect their identity.

After the state called the 9-year-old to the stand as its first witness in the trial, she testified that she was molested when she was a student in Ms. Craft's class.

She used hand motions to indicate how Ms. Craft had touched her, and she said it happened when she visited the teacher's home.

"I went to her house sometimes," the girl said. "She would give me a bath and scrub me really hard."

Questioned by Catoosa County Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt, the child witness said she told a family friend about the incidents at a pool party in 2008.

Mr. Lorandos then spent the rest of the day cross-examining the child, beginning by questioning her about her involvement in two movies.

In one movie, she played the role of a girl abused by a family member, she said.

She also identified about 30 exhibits Mr. Lorandos showed her, including pictures of her with Ms. Craft and thank-you cards. In one card, the child's mother wrote a note to Ms. Craft, saying "she truly loves you and enjoys learning because of you," Mr. Lorandos read to the jury. At the end of the card, the child wrote "I love you" and signed her name.

When asked if she liked Ms. Craft, the child responded, "I didn't like her."

The jurors, seven men and five women, paid close attention to the witness for most of the day. During the state's questioning, which included some graphic details, several of the female jurors had flushed faces and sometimes shocked expressions.

The trial was cut short in the afternoon when the prosecution asked for a hearing to discuss a complaint about a juror.

Superior Court Judge Brian House dismissed the jury, then removed an alternate juror from the panel after two people testified that the man had been discussing case details with his wife and expressed his dislike for the prosecution.

The alternate juror's wife then told a friend about the case, according to testimony from the friend, a Chickamauga Elementary School worker.


Get updates on the trial at

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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