In a prepared statement released on Monday to the press, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin defends his prosecutor in the trial of former Chickamauga kindergarten teacher Tonya Craft.
Franklin blames the media for Prosecutor Chris Arnt’s inability to obtain a conviction against the teacher who was accused of molesting young girls she taught. Franklin also dismisses charges that his office was on a "witch hunt" which lead to the charges being brought against Craft. Craft was found not guilty on 22 counts of child molestation last week. One juror told the media that the entire trial was a "waste of taxpayer’s money."
Franklin’s Press Release:
“As I have told members of the media over the years, I won’t comment on a case until it is concluded and my statement then will usually be that I am pleased with the result or I am disappointed with the result. This case is different and I will go beyond my usual limited comments.
“I was disappointed with the verdict in the Tonya Craft case. The State presented a strong and compelling case to support a conviction, however, the jury chose to acquit her and we must accept this decision. Unlike a defendant, the State has no right of appeal. However, we need not agree with the verdict.
“In most cases, the media strives to present their coverage of criminal trials in a fair and even-handed way that serves to inform the public. In this case, a number of local reporters openly took sides and heavily slanted their coverage in favor of the defense.
“Combined with the dynamics of the internet blogosphere, it created an environment hostile to the State’s ability to receive a fair trial and portrayed the victims and their families in a false and negative light. This was an integral, purposeful and shameless part of the defense strategy. This will result in child victims and their supportive family members refusing to come forward for fear of a similar portrayal in the public. My office has never tried cases in the media and we won’t start now. It would be impossible to rebut every misstatement made but I want to address a few.
“The defense filed a motion to recuse Judge Brian House. It was widely misrepresented in the media that Judge House, while in private practice before assuming the bench, represented Craft’s former husband in a hotly contested divorce. This is simply not true. Mike Giglio, a local attorney, represented Craft’s former husband, who was also Giglio’s brother-in-law. The couple had no children nor property together and it was an uncontested divorce. Judge House merely stood in when an agreed settlement was announced to the court. It is as much the obligation of a judge to deny a motion to recuse when there are no grounds to support the recusal as it is to grant a motion to recuse when it is proper. Again, this was defense strategy which proved successful in the sense that the judge was portrayed as unfair to the defense.
“The defense complained loudly and falsely of discovery violations, yet the only discovery violations in the case were on the part of the defense. The State went above and beyond what was required under our discovery rules. Again, this was defense strategy that was simply untrue.
“The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office covers four counties in northwest Georgia. We handle a large number of cases and we have court almost continuously. I work extremely long hours as does my staff. I saw only bits and pieces of the media coverage. Apparently several media outlets openly asserted that I was hiding or absenting myself from the proceedings for nefarious reasons. This was simply not true.
“There are literally hundreds of jurors, attorneys, clerks, law enforcement officers, judges and other court personnel in our other counties that saw me trying cases and conducting the business of my office while the Craft case was being tried. The prosecution was in capable hands. Mr. Arnt and Mr. Gregor are experienced and dedicated prosecutors who both have been publicly recognized for their commitment to protecting children by prosecuting those that harm them.
“Child molesters rarely commit their crime in public. Child molesters rarely confess. Child molesters are rarely caught on tape. Child molesters rarely leave behind physical evidence. A jury must often make a choice between the testimony of an abused child and the alleged perpetrator. If a jury refuses to convict without videotapes, confession or physical evidence, it will be impossible to convict most child molesters.
“It was particularly troubling in this case to hear statements attributed to some jurors that they looked at the defendant and decided she just didn’t look like someone who would commit such a crime. We must necessarily base our cases on the evidence and not how a defendant looks. We do not simply prosecute those who fit the unsavory profile a juror might have.
“Our office is dedicated to protecting the citizens of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit by working in concert with law enforcement, social service providers, the Children’s Advocacy Center and other agencies. We did our jobs in this case. We have and will continue to seek justice for victims.”
AM 1180 / Walker County Messenger