Tonya Craft, Joal Henke Reach Custody Agreement

Henke: "From Now On We Are Going To Be One Big Happy Family"

Friday, November 19, 2010 - by Dennis Norwood
Tonya Craft and former husband, Joal Henke
Tonya Craft and former husband, Joal Henke
- photo by Dennis Norwood

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 dennis.norwood@att.net; Follow him on Twitter at DennisENorwood)

David and Tonya Craft and Joal and Sarah Henke
David and Tonya Craft and Joal and Sarah Henke
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood

W Road Temporarily Closed After Tractor-Trailer Gets Stuck

The W-Road has been temporarily closed by the HCSO due to a tractor-trailer truck trying to proceed up the mountain and getting stuck.   Deputies are working to assist getting the tractor-trailer back down the mountain.   The road is estimated to be closed for approximately two hours. (click for more)

Walker County Arrest Report For Sept. 19-25

Here is the Walker County arrest report for Sept. 19-25: PAINTER       ANTHONY    SCOTT           WM     33        Officer STAFFORD   POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA LESS THAN 1 OZ, POSSESSION OF METH, POSSESSION OF SCHEDULE IV ... (click for more)

Patrol Cars Donation To Kevin Muhammad's Nation Of Islam Sets A Dangerous Precedent

Re: City Police donating two patrol cars to Kevin Muhammad's Nation of Islam: While I know it's unpopular to mention the wisdom of separation of church and state, this sets a dangerous precedent and should meet with concern from everyone who values religious and secular freedom. What's next? Southern Baptists getting old city parking scooters to patrol church parking lots ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Pitch Called ‘The Defector’

When Jose Fernandez was killed early Sunday morning in a boating accident, he was 24 years old yet had already lived a life much larger than almost all old men. He had spent part of a year in an unimaginably cruel Cuban prison, this when he only 14 years old and sandwiched in an inhumane cell among grown criminals. There were murders daily – in his very cell -- and nobody cared. ... (click for more)

Mocs Soccer Wins 2-1 At Wofford

 The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s soccer team defeated Wofford 2-1 Sunday afternoon in Spartanburg, S.C. The Mocs improve to 3-7-1 overall and 1-1 in Southern Conference action while the Terriers fall to 2-9 on the year and 0-2 against the conference.   Chattanooga netted its first goal in the opening frame following a corner kick. Junior Ellie Myrick’s ... (click for more)

Lee Women Win 5-1 At Shorter

The blistering-hot temperature and the artificial turf was not enough to slow the Lee women's soccer team as they handily defeated host Shorter University 5-1 for its fifth straight victory  on Sunday  afternoon.   Summer Lanter and Kinsey Cichowitz combined to score all five of Lee's goals. Lanter now has six goals on the year and midfielder Cichowitz ... (click for more)