Nearly six months after successfully fighting for her life in a Catoosa County court, Tonya Craft was back in court Tuesday to fight a different battle, but one even more important to her than her criminal case. This time, in the Hamilton County courtroom of Judge Marie Williams, she is fighting for her two children. And her former husband, Joal Henke, is fighting to keep them.
Ms. Craft’s son and daughter were taken from her custody by an emergency court order – that was supposed to be temporary - and placed with their father, Mr. Henke and his current wife, Sarah Bass Henke.
Ms. Craft was charged, tried and then found innocent of 22 counts of child molestation brought against her by the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department. Once that verdict was returned, some expected that the children would be returned to her custody immediately. However, that was not to be the case. Motions were filed and extensions were granted until both parties found themselves in Judge Williams’ courtroom on a cold, drizzly monochromatic morning.
Ms. Craft was originally awarded custodial parenting rights in the parental sharing agreement as part of the Henkes’ 2004 divorce proceedings. After being awarded the emergency temporary order of custody, Mr. Henke filed to make his custody permanent. At the same time, Ms. Craft was fighting to get her children back.
Taking the stand to build his case as the plaintiff, Mr. Henke began to paint the picture of a home where the children live in a household of love and activity. Under the direct examination by his attorney, Charles Dupree, he told the court how the children were happier and of all the activities in which they participated. Among those were baseball, football, dancing, and tae kwan do lessons.
He described the children as a typical brother and sister; he said, “Although they enjoy their time together, they also love their time apart.”
Mr. Henke described their home life as normal under the circumstances. He said, “As a real estate agent I have a very flexible schedule and can make myself available for the children as need be.” Asked about what if he has the children and someone calls up to see a house, he replied, “Only if it doesn’t interfere with the children’s time. Normally I would call a colleague and then later collect a referral fee.”
Mr. Henke also testified that as a registered nurse working a day shift, his wife Sarah was also flexible enough to be there for the children as they needed her. Mr. Henke is employed with Keller Williams Realty and Mrs. Henke works for Parkridge Medical Center.
While Mr. Henke was on the stand the entire morning and the first few minutes after the lunch break, several educators from Westview Elementary School took the stand during the afternoon session to testify that the children were both doing well in school with no attendance issues. One teacher, Kendra Sboda, described the daughter as a “social butterfly” while her older brother was a bit more reserved.
A former minister at Eastwood Baptist Church where the Henkes attend, Joshua McGiness, also testified in support of his friend and former tae kwan do instructor, Joal. When attorney Clancy Covert asked him why he had attended the Craft criminal trial, he answered, “To support Joal and Sarah.”
Mr. McGuiness told the judge that while he respected Mr. Henke now, he had not always. Asked by Ms. Craft’s attorneys what changed his mind, McGuiness said, “It was the way he handled his divorce from Ms. Craft.” He stated he did not attend any of the divorce proceedings, but came to his feelings from hearing what Mr. Henke had to say in their church small group meetings. “We asked Joal some pretty tough questions,” he said.
Addressing both Sarah and Joal as to the issue of Sarah showering with the daughter, both said they found nothing wrong with the practice. Ms. Craft had earlier complained to authorities about this practice. It was only after a psychologist associated with the case told her to stop the practice that it ended, according to trial testimony.
As a former minister, Mr. McGuiness said he didn’t find anything wrong with the practice either, saying there were just too many variables and facets to look at.
The final witness of the day was William Finley Knowles. He stated he has known the Henkes through a church group for several years, although he seemed surprised when asked if the group had ever discussed Mr. Henke’s affair while married to Ms. Craft.
Judge Williams adjourned court at 4:15. Wednesday’s session will be closed to the public and the media as testimony will revolve around medical and psychological findings of the children. Open court will resume Thursday morning.
Ms. Craft, who appeared on several national TV programs after her acquittal, is suing the Henkes and a host of others in Federal Court in Rome, Ga.
(Email Dennis Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter at DennisENorwood)
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood