A hard-fought custody battle between Tonya Craft and Joal Henke ended abruptly Friday with a joint news conference in which they said a settlement had been reached.
Terms of the custody settlement will be confidential.
Both sides seemed pleased with the outcome, and Mr. Henke said, "From now on we are going to be one big happy family."
Ms. Craft, who had lost custody after she was charged with sexually abusing children and then was fully exonerated, said, "I would have not done anything that was not based on the best interests of the children."
She said the agreement was worked out between the two couples and not by Judge Marie Williams.
Appearing together, both the Crafts and the Henkes appeared to be pleased with the agreement that will allow both parents and their spouses to remain a significant part of the children’s lives. According to Ms. Craft, “This was a decision that was reached with all four of us involved. It is important that all four of us are in agreement and involved for the sake of the children.”
David Craft, current husband of Tonya Craft, led off the remarks by saying, “This agreement was important for us all as a family.”
Asked about the turning point in making the settlement, Joal Henke said, “It was just time to put all this behind us and do what’s best for the children.”
That is a point that everyone agreed with, including Judge Williams, who said from the bench, “It is a good thing you’ve done for these children today. You have given them an early Christmas present and for that you should be commended.”
Linda Hall, guardian-ad-litem for the children, also agreed with the judge, reiterating that in her own opinion it was best that the details of the settlement remain confidential. Judge Williams had made it clear from the beginning that every effort would be made to protect both the identity and lives of the two children.
Just after the settlement was announced, Craft attorneys Scott and Cary King said, “While we didn’t get everything we had hoped for, we do feel that the agreement is definitely in the best interest of the children.” As per the confidentiality agreement, neither counsel would comment on who would be the primary residential parent.
Tom and Betty Faires, Tonya’s parents, also appeared relieved that a settlement had been reached. Asked for their opinion, Mrs. Faires replied, “We really don’t know any of the details yet. We’re just very happy that it was all worked out.” The grandparents have always played a very active role with their grandchildren and were extremely anxious to have their visitation restored.
Earlier Friday saw day four of the custody battle begin with the attorneys from both sides meeting to agree on stipulations as to witness testimony. With 34 individuals left on Ms. Craft’s list of potential witnesses, the effort was to pare down those who would be actually called to save time and finish up the hearing before Circuit Court Judge Williams this week.
The plan had been that once all testimony was complete both sides would have one week to file any necessary documents before the judge made a ruling.
In every case, the stipulations ran to the fact that Ms. Craft was a fit and loving mother and that her children both loved her.
The testimony of Karen Melton, the across the street neighbor of Tony and Betty Faires, the children’s maternal grandparents included the statement that the daughter had even referred to herself as “Little Tonya.” Mrs. Melton, along with Courtney Lewis, Shenica Lewis and Rev. Mark Chapman were also stipulated to say that the children still enjoyed a normal, loving relationship with their mother.
During the criminal trial the Henkes testified that Mrs. Henke had started taking showers with the daughter because she was dirty, with matted hair and “had a stench about her.” Each of the stipulated testimonies included statements that the witnesses had never observed either child as dirty, disheveled or with a stench about them. Mrs. Henke had continued the practice of showering with the young girl for nine months until told to stop by a child psychologist associated with the case. Ms. Craft had filed a complaint about the practice before any charges were brought against her in 2008.
Ms. Craft and Mr. Henke had been fighting over the right to be the residential parent of the daughter and son. This right had previously rested with Ms. Craft until the children were removed from her home in May of 2008 when she was charged with 22 counts of child molestation by the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department. After a month-long trial, she was acquitted of all 22 counts by a jury in May of 2010.
As the emergency court order removing the children from her home was meant to be temporary, it was expected that the son and daughter would be returned to her care after she was found not guilty. However, Mr. Henke then filed a motion to have the residential agreement amended giving he and his wife, Sarah, residential privileges.
The Henkes both testified against Ms. Craft in her criminal case.
Most witnesses who testified this week were complimentary of the parenting of both Ms. Craft and Mr. Henke. Those whose testimony was stipulated to on Friday morning each said they had no knowledge of Mr. Henke’s parenting the children.
Previous testimony had been that the son was somewhat nervous and anxious. Ms. Lewis contended that while the son was quiet and reserved, he was not nervous. She had been a regular visitor in the Craft home. She also said that the son was protective of his little sister and the two were close to one another. She also had observed only good hygiene with both children.
Emilie Bagley refuted Mr. Henke’s testimony that Ms. Craft had ignored the children’s health care. The specific issue was an issue with the son’s eyesight when he was a young child. Ms. Bagley’s testimony is that Ms. Craft was fully responsible for her children’s health and dental care during her marriage to Mr. Henke.
(Email Dennis Norwood at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter at DennisENorwood)
David and Tonya Craft and Joal and Sarah Henke
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood