The third week of trial for a former kindergarten teacher charged with child molestation resumes today with the prosecution continuing its case.
In the first two weeks of the trial, the three alleged victims, who are 8 and 9 years old, testified that Tonya Craft had touched them inappropriately.
Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher, is charged with 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation.
But during cross-examination, the girls' testimony differed in several ways from what they'd said during videotaped interviews in May and June of 2008, just before Ms. Craft's arrest.
When asked why their answers were different, each girl had a similar statement: "I didn't remember" or "I don't know."
The girls also testified that Ms. Craft had touched them many times, but could cite only one occasion.
In testimony, social workers who interviewed the girls acknowledged that, during the first portion of the interviews, two of the girls did not say specifically that Ms. Craft had touched them inappropriately. Such details didn't come out until the girls left the room for a break, then came back later that same day for another interview session.
One said on the video that Ms. Craft "told me to touch her back." The other was much more graphic in the details of what happened, according to one of the social workers. But the videocamera was not turned on at the time, the social worker testified, and she did not write down what the girl said in her notes.
Before their testimony, each girl, wearing a bright, colorful dress while clutching a stuffed animal, was led into the courtroom by a social worker.
A sexual assault nurse examiner also testified that two of the three girls showed "suspicious" physical signs "that were consistent with sexual abuse."
Asked by one of Ms. Craft's defense attorneys how she knew the children were sexually abused, nurse Sharon Anderson said she did not know for certain that it was sexual abuse. But she said medical exams showed physical abnormalities on two of the girls and her conclusions were based on specific characteristics seen during those exams.
When the mothers of two of the girls testified in the second week of the trial, both said they had been close friends with Ms. Craft before the allegations.
Both admitted they had a falling out with Ms. Craft, citing separate incidents. The mother of the first child said her daughter stopped wanting to go to Ms. Craft's home after a birthday party in January 2008 at which the teacher scolded her.
The second mother testified that the relationship between her and Ms. Craft was strained after an incident between their children. But before the molestation allegations arose in May 2008, the women were speaking again, she said.
During the trial, the defense spent the most time -- about nine hours -- questioning the lead investigator, Catoosa County Sheriff's Office Detective Tim Deal.
Detective Deal testified he decided he had enough evidence to arrest Ms. Craft on June 11, 2008, saying the girls' medical exams weighed heavily in that decision.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Scott King asked the detective why he didn't interview several key people, including two of the girls' fathers and several children who were often at Ms. Craft's home.
The detective gave several reasons, including that the mothers of the alleged victims said the fathers were too upset to be interviewed.
He also mentioned several times during his testimony that he didn't want the investigation to turn into "a witchhunt" by talking with too many people.
Follow the trial at Twitter.com/timesfreepress.
Joy Lukachick is a crime reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing down ...