Tonya Craft, a former kindergarten teacher, charged with 22 counts of various sexual offenses involving 3 minor girls, was acquitted today. You may or may not have heard of her. I wrote a post recently about the trial and some of the outrageous antics engaged in by the prosecutors.
She was represented by Demosthenes Lorandos, who apparently has made a habit of successfully defending child sex cases across the country, and who hilariously said at the post-verdict press conference: “I do not lose”.
The media has been all over this trial, bringing it much needed attention. At first, the attention focused on the misbehavior of the prosecutors [see this for some very questionable comments during closing] and later the complete lack of qualification and training of the so-called “child sex experts”.
Twitter was set ablaze today as the jury was deliberating and the tweets of joy were abundant when the verdict was announced. Parties have been planned, interviews being given on the news and Ms. Craft will now fight to regain custody of her children.
All’s well that ends well. But this is not a happy post, nor is it a merely celebratory one. While Ms. Craft has the opportunity to return to her life, there are lessons for all of us. A fellow defense lawyer asked on Twitter: “Who is #tonyacraft and why [is she] any different from all of our other human tragedies?”
She is not. There are hundreds of Tonya Crafts out there in the criminal justice system, every single day, pleading to charges to avoid lengthy sentences or attempting to fight the false allegations and losing.
Any criminal defense lawyer (like yours truly) saw a stream of familiarity in the continuing coverage by news reporters of the direct and cross-examinations of the witnesses. The dissection of the forensic interviews by the defense experts was a veritable checklist of the problems associated with such after-the-fact divining: repeated questions, leading questions, suggestive questions. Pressuring children to answer a certain way; the worst form of confirmation bias. The prosecutors attempting to cast the defendant in general terms as a bad person, a person of loose moral character, thus equating foibles in their character with child molestation.
This. Happens. Every. Day.
Child sex assault allegations are the scariest of them all. The power to believe a child is overwhelming and the fear of disbelieving a child is even greater.
Will the media be there tomorrow when yet another Tonya Craft is hung out to dry by our criminal justice system and our courts that are so quick to label anyone merely accused of such a crime as a heinous monster? Will the public rise up in support every time there is a trial with questionable evidence and even shadier tactics employed by prosecutors and experts?
Or did Tonya Craft get attention because she’s white and she’s a woman?
There’s a well documented disparity between male and female sex offenders and the treatment they receive in our courts. Women are more likely to receive probation and less jail time than men. Women are more likely to have websites created which count down the “hottest” sex offenders.
Men are vilified and universally regarded as creepy and generally guilty.
Imagine if it weren’t Tonya Craft on trial, but Tony Craft. Would there be the same hubbub? Would anyone even bat an eyelid? Would the media’s treatment of the trial have been the same or diametrically opposed?
I don’t mean to demean the victory here, but this is a great opportunity for those who aren’t “in the know” in the system to realize several things:
1. People are falsely accused of crimes
2. Child Sex cases are the most difficult to defend against
3. Prosecutors routinely rely on questionable “experts” to get convictions
4. Just because a man is accused of molesting a child, doesn’t mean he’s guilty.
The next time you get asked to serve on a jury, think long and hard about these things and about Tonya Craft and about the witchhunts that go on every single day in all our courtrooms across the country.
Congratulations Tonya Craft. You board a plane and given an interview to NBC, it is your right. There will be some noise made about grieving the judge and the prosecutors, but if history is any guide, nothing will come of it. The town in Northwestern GA will return to normal and soon this will be talked about as a fairy-tale. But tomorrow, another Tony(a) Craft will be arrested and charged and will go on trial. Will he/she get justice? Will you be there to cover it? Will you know the difference? Will you turn a skeptical eye? Or will you join the mad rush of hysteria that has swept the nation in condemning the despicable child molester?
Your eyes have been opened. Whether to keep them open is up to you.