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Tonya Craft: Teacher on Trial (Day Three)

Bumper sticker violates judge's order. Defense fined $300. Bumper sticker violates judge's order. Defense fined $300.
Bumper sticker violates judge's order. Defense fined $300. Bumper sticker violates judge's order. Defense fined $300.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14

Follow WRCB's Melydia Clewell and Callie Starnes on Twitter. Get updates from the field and courthouse at Facebook.com/WRCBtv. Legal analysis on-air from WRCB Legal Analyst McCracken Poston.

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Update 6:30 p.m.

Toward the end of the day, the judge dismissed the jury to begin a hearing on possible jury misconduct. A cafeteria worker for Chickamauga Elementary School, where Craft used to teach, was called to the stand. She said she overheard a comment made by Marsha Knight, a teacher, whose husband was an alternate juror.

The cafeteria worker said Mrs. Knight felt like Craft could not get a fair trial in Catoosa County and that her husband felt like the judge and prosecutor were a "bunch of hicks."

The alternate juror, Paul Knight, reportedly had told his wife he felt like Judge House read the indictment against Craft in a way that sounded accusatory.

An FBI agent who helped with the jury misconduct investigation testified that Mrs. Knight confirmed to him what the cafeteria worker alleged.

Judge House then announced he was excusing Knight as a juror due to his "failing to take his duty seriously."

Update 5:15 p.m.

Channel 3 Eyewitness News has confirmed that the dismissed alternate juror is the husband of a teacher at Chickamauga Elementary School. That is the same school where Tonya Craft used to teach.

An FBI agent was asked to investigate the teacher about her husband's conversations on the case. Jurors and the alternates were instructed to not discuss the case, even with a spouse. The alternate juror's wife is apparently a known supporter of Tonya Craft.

Update 4:15 p.m.

Judge called jury in and asked them as group if they have talked to anyone about the case. He then dismissed one of the alternate jurors. Judge says he will not punish juror and is having someone from the Sheriff's Office take the juror to get his car to avoid media. Judge did not give juror an explanation, just said he was excused.

Judge then asked the jury if they have watched television, read a newspaper, or talked to each other about the case. They say no. Court dismissed.

Update 4:04 p.m.

Judge has dismissed one of the alternate jurors for discussing the case outside of court.

Update 4:00 p.m.

In a hearing, without the jury present, an FBI agent is answering questions. He was hired to track jury issues. He backs up what a local school employee says about juror bias.

FBI agent says he has heard from local people who believe Tonya Craft cannot get a fair trial locally. This trial could go back to square one if what this agent is saying is true.

Prosecution says there is sufficient evidence to discharge juror. He is citing case law.

Update 3:40 p.m.

The witness on the stand says Craft molested her six or more times. When the defense attorney asked her why she didn't remember before. She said, "I just remembered."

Update 3:28 p.m.

Child witness changing story about where in Tonya Craft's house molestation allegedly happened, and when. Defense still probing for answers.

Defense: "Is there anything else?"

Girl: "There is more, but I can't remember."

Child witness then added that Tonya would mow lawn in short shorts & bra.

Court taking another break.

Update 3:16 p.m.

Court back in session. Defense using a big board/marker to document what child witness is saying. Despite a couple afternoon yawns, jurors appear very attentive. Many of them are closely watching the witness, defendant and the prosecution's body language.

Update 2:23

Child witness asked to take a break. Fifteen-minute break allowed.

Update 2:17

Forgot to tell you the officer left ... well, back again. Judge wants the media watched very closely. 

Defense continuing to ask child about pictures she is in. Many are from Craft's wedding. 

Child witness was in Craft's wedding.

Defense just referred to the alleged child molestation as "creepy things". 

Witness just corrected defense attorney on how to say her friend's name.

Update 1:46

Sounds like Craft kept every card and letter students gave her. 

Defense continuing to show court letters, notes and pictures given to Craft while teaching witness. All are supportive.

Officer once again checking on us in the pool room to make sure we are not recording. He just sat down. Guess he is staying.

Previously, witness asked what she thought of Craft as a teacher. Said, "I didn't like her." Defense trying to prove that isn't true.

Defense reading letter written to Craft by child witness and her mother thanking Tonya for her teaching. 11 minutes ago via web

Child looking at card she wrote to Craft at end of school year. It says "I love you." 

Update 1:23

Defense attorney using a very soft, kind, gentle voice while questioning child. Using the word "please" with every sentence.

Before lunch child witness referring to Craft as Mrs. Hence (Tonya's maiden name), now she is just calling her Tonya.

Defense showing child witness multiple pictures. Many taken of her kindergarten class, and their teacher.

Defense just asked little girl to describe picture (exhibit 9 in evidence). Says Craft in pica, little girl on lap, both smiling.

Update 1:19 p.m.

First witness from morning session back on the stand. Defense questioning time frame of alleged child molestation.

Update 1:12 p.m.

Court has resumed.

Update 11:55 a.m.

Court has recessed for lunch. Testimony resumes at 1:00 p.m. with more questioning of the first accuser.

Update 11:42 a.m.

Witness says she was abused by Tonya Craft when she in her kindergarten class and while in the first grade. Defense attorney is asking child who she talked to about coming to court. The child said her therapist. He then indicated that he has more questions for her "after lunch."

Update 11:11 a.m.

Assistant District Attorney objects to the defense showing child's acting/model photographs. Defense wants to ask the child about her ability to remember rehearsed lines. The judge overruled.

Defense then showed child her resume from a movie web site, asking her about acting lessons.

Update 10:58 a.m.

9-year-old witness says she is an actor. She has played in two movies, says she has also appeared in catalogs and magazines. Witness says she has played a character who was abused. This will be a key a part of the defense strategy in casting doubt.

Defense attorney to child: "If you get tired, I have a lot to ask you, will you tell the judge to take a break?" She answered: "yes"

Update 10:55 a.m.

Witness says she didn't tell anyone because she was scared. Claims Tonya Craft threatened to kill her mom if she told.

After prosecution finished, the defense began questioning. The first question to the girl: What is your doll's name?

Update 10:43 a.m.

First witness called to stand is a 9-year-old female. Witness being asked about school subjects. She doesn't like spelling, but loves math. She sounds comfortable with being asked questions. Witness later describes Tonya Craft giving her a bath. The testimony is graphic. Witness uses hands to show how she was molested. Witness says molestation happened more than once.

Update 10:15 a.m.

Two men are walking around courthouse looking for bumper stickers in support of Tonya Craft. The stickers would be a violation of the Judge's order against such material present on the courthouse square.

Update 10:00 a.m.

The morning began with Assistant District Attorney objecting to the defense team telling jury that one of the alleged victims was actual perpetrator. He claimed that violates the Rape Shield Law.

Defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos argued that law is intended to shield the victim, not perpetrator. Judge agreed, saying defense cannot violate rape shield law.

Prosecution later argued that it's not admissible for Defense to call witnesses just to say they were not molested by Tonya Craft, citing case law.

The two sides are combative and sarcastic toward each other. At one point, one of Craft's defense attorneys told the prosecution to "chill out."

 

Arguments got heated on both side in a 1 1/2 hr hearing of #TonyaCraft One of Craft's defense attorney's told a prosecutor to "chill out."

Update 9:30 a.m.

The Court has fined the defense team $300 for violating the judge's order about not parking vehicles with bumper stickers about the case. The judge says the fine may be purged with immediate removal.

Update 9:18 a.m.

Court is running late this morning. Testimony has not begun. Security was tighter this morning. Our crews had to go through a secondary screening process.

Update 9:00 a.m.

Cameras will not be allowed inside the courtroom for the first three witnesses today. Presumably, the first three witness will be the young girls who accuse Tonya Craft of child molestation. The Judge's Order from March 9th issued a ban on cameras when children were testifying. Channel 3's team of reporters will be allowed to stay inside the courtroom without a camera.

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