Video: Female teacher faces sex-abuse charges

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    >>> her in just a bit.

    >>> we want to begin this half-hour with the trial of a beloved kindergarten teacher in georgia . she's accused of molesting three young girls in a case that has splintered a community. nbc 's michelle kosinski is in ringell, georgia with the latest on this.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. you have hundreds of people here, even more online, rallying behind the now-fired kindergarten teacher, tanya craft . you also have this deep feeling for three little girls who, at tiles, graphically describe what they claim craft did to them. you have fragmented testimony and contradictory statements and memories of little children . amid that, imagine facing the rest of your life behind bars . two years have passed since she was accused, and tanya craft has lost her job, her home, custody of her young daughter. but to many, she is still the beloved kindergarten teacher they refuse to believe would harm a child.

    >> they don't want the truth. they don't want any of that. they want a conviction and they're going to get it one way or another.

    >> reporter: there are websites and blogs furiously calling the trial a witchhunt, saying craft is the victim, a scheming detractor or shoddy police work or overzealous prosecutors.

    >> how can this happen? how can i go from being a mother and a teacher to having a mug shot on television for something i did not do? this kind of situation can happen to anyone. it could happen to anybody at any time and all there has to be is an accusation. and that's it. you're stripped of your rights and your life and your children and your home.

    >> reporter: it started with one little girl claiming craft fondled her at a slopeover with craft 's daughter. the girl, now 9, in very detailed testimony said the abuse happened multiple times when she was in kindergarten and first grade. though her story has changed some. she said there's more but i can't remember. when asked why she didn't remember certain things earlier, she said i just remembered. but two other girls have made similar accusations. the father of one broke down.

    >> i said, are you 100% sure that this happened? and i'll never forget the look on her face. or in her eyes. she stopped everything she did and looked me dead in the eye and said, "i know it did, dad."

    >> reporter: tonya craft has been indicted on 22 counts of molestation, sexual battery . one expert testified that the victim's medical exam showed signs consistent with sexual abuse while another said there were not. there's even been a sort of character assassination of the main accuser, a child movie actress .

    >> you're also dealing with a professional child actress that played the role of an abused chi child. it's very -- it's very scary for me to wonder how i'm going to defend myself against that.

    >> reporter: while hundreds have come out to support her, craft 's one-time best friend testified against her, saying craft molested her daughter. the jury will soon have to choose between three little girls with some graphic descriptions, and an adult who insists she did nothing wrong.

    >> no matter what the result is, i'm innocent. and whatever a jury decides doesn't change that.

    >> reporter: here is a question here of whether the children were led in their testimony by police or parents. but also a question if adults were scheming against tonya craft , why would they manipulate little kids to do so, and would children that age really make up stories like this? it is a tough one that could determine whether this woman spends the rest of her life in prison or not, matt.

    >> michelle kosinski in georgia for us this morning on this story. dan abrams is nbc 's chief legal analyst, dan, good morning to you. this is a tough one. you've got children who were 5, 6, 7 at the time the alleged crime occurred. now they're 8 and 9 at the time of a trial. how do you judge their credibility as witnesses when someone's entire life hangs in the balance?

    >> it's really hard. for two reasons. first of all, because they were so young when it happened. and secondly, it's the time that's passed since then. you're not just asking 5 and 6 year-olds to talk about what just happened to them, you're asking 8 and 9 year-olds to talk about what had happened to them years earlier. so both sides have to be very, very careful, because no one wants to be in the position of suggesting that the child is doing anything wrong. i think both the prosecution and the defense want to take the position that the children are laying out a story, an account, and even from the defense 's perspective, they want to be able to say that, if these children are not telling the truth, as we claim they're not, it's not because they did something wrong, it's because either they were manipulated by parents and they were manipulated by investigators, et cetera .

    >> one of the other defense strategies appears to be -- you're right, it is a tough place for a defense attorney to be to cross examine a child. one of their strategies seems to be to question the investigation itself.

    >> absolutely. look, that's what happened in these types of cases. you very often see the defense , and in this case it is exactly what they're doing, they're saying, this never should have gotten here, that these children were led by the investigators and what you see is the defense saying -- there were suggestive questions. these are kids when they're asked a question that suggests that maybe it happened and they say yes, and then their story changes, et cetera , well, that's not reliable. that's what you're seeing here from the defense , in addition to attacking some of the physical evidence . they're essentially saying what they say is physical evidence isn't physical evidence , and we also want to be able to show how normal everything actually was.

    >> you know, so many times you hear attorneys debating the idea of a defendant taking the witness stand on his or her own behalf. in this particular case, is this one of those situations where tonya craft may have to take the witness stand ?

    >> she may. i mean unless things have gone so badly for the prosecution, she really may. this is one of those cases where jurors are almost going to demand in their heads to hear from the defendant herself. yes, you can try and undermine the testimony of the children. yes, you can try and undermine the testimony of the investigators. but in a case like this which is so personal, i think that you need to have that defendant on the witness stand . of course the problem with that is, she's going to be confronted with certain accounts. she's going to be confronted with certain evidence and the question is going to be how does she do when that happens.

    >> dan abrams in los angeles this morning, thanks very much for your perspective on this.

    >> all right, matt.

NBC News and news services
updated 5/12/2010 4:59:16 PM ET 2010-05-12T20:59:16

A jury on Monday acquitted a former kindergarten teacher in Chickamauga, Ga., on child molestation charges.

The five-week trial drew the attention of national media organizations amid allegations that prosecutors were on a "witch hunt" and questions were raised about the stories from the girls.

After nearly two days of deliberation, the jury found Tonya Craft, a 37-year-old mother, not guilty on all 22 counts, NBC News reported. The counts included charges of child molestation, sexual battery and aggravated child molestation.

If convicted, Craft could have faced life in prison.

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.

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