Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free - Tonya Craft leaves the Catoosa County Courthouse Thursday evening with her husband David Craft.
RINGGOLD, Ga. -- The lead investigator in a child molestation case involving three girls testified Thursday that he never interviewed the fathers of two of the girls.
"Tell us when you interviewed (the second child's father)," defense attorney Scott King said while cross-examining Catoosa County Sheriff's Detective Tim Deal.
Detective Deal looked up from his notes and said he hadn't spoken to the man.
"(The father) was also having a hard time (with the allegations)," the detective said.
Detective Deal spent all Thursday on the witness stand in the trial of Tonya Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher charged with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation. The charges involve three children.
Testifying in Catoosa County Superior Court, Detective Deal said neither man was formally interviewed because both mothers indicated the men were upset over the allegations against Ms. Craft.
He also said neither of the daughters talked with their fathers about Ms. Craft.
Mr. King asked, "Oh, so (the mother) is now heading your investigation?"
"No," Detective Deal quickly responded. "I did talk with (the second father)."
"Can you point to a place in your notes where you talked with the father?" Mr. King asked.
Detective Deal admitted the conversation wasn't documented, but said he spoke to the father on the phone.
Thursday morning, prosecutors showed the jury two taped interviews that Detective Deal conducted with the second alleged victim. The detective said he interviewed the child because a forensic interviewer was not available.
In the first interview on May 27, 2008, the child didn't report any incident involving Ms. Craft touching her inappropriately. In the second, conducted the next week, the girl said Ms. Craft had molested her.
Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor after the videos were shown, the detective said that sometimes children don't reveal sexual abuse right away.
"That's very common," he told the jury.
Mr. King used a transcript of the taped interview during cross-examination, reading through it with the detective and stopping to ask questions.
At one point, he asked Detective Deal about part of the interview when he asked the child if Ms. Craft had said anything to her when touching her.
According to the transcript, the child said "no." But in the next paragraph, Detective Deal asked again, "Did she say anything or just not to tell?" The child quickly responded, "She told me not to tell."
Mr. King stopped and looked at the detective and, "You just changed her answer?"
"Possibly yes," the detective said. But he said later than through his questions, he had gotten the girl to modify her answer but not to change it.
The trial continues today, with the state calling its next witness.
Mr. King pointed out what he said were several other leading or suggestive questions Detective Deal asked the child.
At one point, Detective Deal became visibly angry when Mr. King suggested the mothers could have been influencing their daughters' testimonies.
Detective Deal looked at the defense table, waved his hand in Ms. Craft's direction and said the media and Ms. Craft's "cronies" have put the girls' families through an ordeal.
"I don't know of anyone that would subject their child to this kind of garbage ... without any motive but abuse," he said.
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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 ...