The Catoosa County Superior Court jury came back with its verdict Tuesday afternoon after nearly two days of deliberation in the trial of 37-year-old Tonya Craft. The former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher faced 22 charges of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and aggravated child molestation.
Since her arrest in May 2008, Craft has been fired from her job, lost custody of her daughter, lost her home and moved with her husband to Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., about 30 miles north of where she was on trial in Ringgold.
The verdict was met with cheers from supporters outside the courtroom.
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RINGGOLD — The case of a former Chickamauga Elementary kindergarten teacher accused of molesting three young girls went to the jury Monday afternoon after four weeks of testimony.
The fifth week of Tonya Craft’s trial started with both sides making their closing statements.
After the lunch break, the jury was charged and it started deliberating until dismissed for the day at 5 p.m. Jurors — consisting of seven men and five women — will continue deliberations Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Craft, 37, is facing 22 counts, including child molestation, sexual battery and aggravated child molestation.
The trial has riveted the region and even made national headlines with NBC’s “Today Show” airing a follow-up story Monday morning before court reconvened.
Click here to see the "Today Show" segment
The case largely rests with whether the jury will believe the girls or Craft. There is little physical evidence, and both sides have presented expert testimony on the ability of young children to separate fact from fiction. Prosecutors say Craft touched the three girls inappropriately during parties and sleepovers at her house between 2002 and 2008, though exact dates are not known.
Craft, who now lives in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., about 30 miles north of Ringgold, has repeatedly denied the allegations.
In his closing, Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor pointed to the defense’s “conspiracy” theories. He used the fishing hobby of Craft’s husband David as an analogy. Gregor compared the defense’s theories to fishing lures that are colorful, shiny and used to “dupe” fish.
After each proposed “theory,” Gregor told the jury, “See if you want to bite on that one.”
“The truth doesn’t come from a website, from expert witnesses or from abusing a child witness on the stand for hours and hours,” Gregor said.
He also claimed that the amounts of money the expert witnesses earned in this case is shameful.
“The truth isn’t something you can buy, but you sure can try to buy your way out of being accountable for the truth,” Gregor said.
Craft revealed that her defense has amounted to about $500,000.
Defense attorney Demosthenes Lorandos countered the prosecution in his closing appeal to jurors.
“The only thing that matters is what you in your hearts believe from the witnesses you watched and what you believe to be true,” Lorandos said.
“Somewhere along the way these little girls were made to believe that these terrible things happened to them,” Lorandos said.
“How can you prove that it didn’t happen?” Lorandos asked the court.
He cited his reason for putting the defendant on the stand: “You wanted to hear from her, so you did.”
Craft took the stand for two days in her own defense last week. “I have been falsely accused,” she said during testimony. “I have not sexually abused any child.”
Closing arguments concluded with lead prosecutor Chris Arnt asking the jury how so many friends of Craft could have conspired to get their children to make up such allegations. He called the defense “flimsy” and said that even though the defense never used the term “conspiracy,” it used terms like “witch hunt” and “frame job.”
Arnt maintained the testimonies of the three girls are sufficient evidence for a conviction.
He said Craft tried to create a false image. “It’s just like Tiger Woods. He had a public image and there was another real image behind it,” Arnt said.
The trial, which began April 12, is being held in Catoosa County Superior Court in Ringgold.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tonya Craft, 37, a former Chickamauga Elementary School kindergarten teacher, is accused of molesting three children. She is facing 22 counts, including 10 counts of child molestation, six counts of aggravated sexual battery and six counts of aggravated child molestation. She has maintained her innocence since her arrest in June 2008. She was fired from her job at Chickamauga Elementary.
Click for more: Week 5 Day 21 - Monday: Closing statements are given, and the jury gets the case
Week 4 Day 20 - Friday: Craft continues testimony in her own defense, and the defense rests
Day 19 - Thursday: Craft and her husband both take the stand. Includes videos of each.
Day 18 - Wednesday: Therapist takes the stand
Day 17 - Tuesday: More testimony from expert witnesses, including a psychiatrist from Vanderbilt Medical School
Day 16 - Monday: Defense brings clinical social worker to the stand
Week 3: Day 15 - Friday: Testimony includes a clinical psychologist
Day 14 - Thursday: A string of friends testify.
Day 13 - Wednesday: Teachers who worked with Craft testify they never saw anything inappropriate happen.
Day 12 - Tuesday: The defense presents a witness, a friend who says Craft watched her children and nothing happened.
Day 11 - Monday: A forensic interviewer discusses video interviews she conducted with the alleged victims, and the prosecution rests its case
Week 2: Day 10 - Friday: The stepmother of one of the alleged victims talks about the girl's experiences.
Day 9 - Thursday: Catoosa County Sheriff's Office Detective Tim Deal continues his testimony.
Day 8 - Wednesday: Testimony includes a woman who interviewed the alleged victims, as well as a detective from the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office.
Day 7 - Tuesday: The mother of one of the alleged victims testifies about her daughter telling her she was molested.
Day 6 - Monday: A "homeroom mother" testifies about one of the alleged victims, and the mother of one of the girls also testifies.
Week 1: Day 5 - Friday: An alleged victim testifies
Day 4 - Thursday: Another of the alleged victims testifies, and a nurse who examined the girls discusses her conclusions.
Day 3 - Wednesday: One of the alleged victims testifies, and a juror is dismissed for discussing the case
Day 2 - Tuesday: Opening statements continue. The prosecution details its plan for presenting evidence, noting that the alleged victims are all in therapy. The defense will try to show its side of the story.
Day 1 - Monday: Jury selection and opening statements begin