published Friday, February 11th, 2011

Case against Craft's investigator dismissed

The criminal charges against a private investigator hired by Tonya Craft were dismissed Wednesday.

Eric Echols, who was charged with trying to influence a witness in Craft's criminal case on child molestation, said he was relieved to receive a letter that said the charges were dropped.

"Today is a great day," Echols said Thursday. "Receiving that letter was a blessing."

Craft, a former North Georgia schoolteacher, was acquitted on May 11 in Catoosa County on 22 counts of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.

While the indictment against Echols was quashed in November, the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney's office had four years to reintroduce the charges.

On Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton told the judge handling Echols' case that, "after reviewing the evidence," the state had decided not to pursue further charges, a letter obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press shows.

Norton didn't return calls seeking comment.

Echols said the district attorney's decision to drop the charges shows the state didn't have any evidence against him. He said he now plans to try to expunge the charges from his record.

Echols was arrested when police said the father of one of the children in the case complained to the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office that Echols had tried to persuade him not to testify in Craft's trial. Echols then was charged with three counts of tampering with a witness.

But a transcript of the recorded conversation between Echols and the father shows the men speaking politely.

After Echols was arrested in August 2009, he claimed it was to stop his investigation on behalf of Craft before she went to trial. Echols worked as an investigator in Craft's child custody and molestation case.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/jlukachick.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government 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 ...

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