A close friend of Tonya Craft defended her in a Ringgold courtroom on Tuesday, fending off a number of questions by the prosecution about alleged sexual improprieties by the former Chickamauga Elementary kindergarten teacher.
Paula ‘Dee’ Potter, who has a daughter in Chickamauga Elementary, said she never saw any problems between Ms. Craft and three children who are accusing her of molesting them.
Ms. Potter, a CPA with a master’s degree in organizational management, told defense attorney Carey King that Ms. Craft “is one of my best friends.”
“Did you meet at the baseball fields?” “Yes, in February of 2006.”
She recalled that Ms. Craft’s ex-husband would sometimes attend baseball games with the Henke children.
“After school was out in 2006 did you continue to see Tonya outside of school?” “Yes, I did. She kept my children.”
“Was she watching your children all the time?” “Yes.” “Did you ever have any concerns?” “No.”
Mr. King asked if the witness had a small pool at her house and if Tonya would ever come over with her children. Ms. Potter answered in the affirmative. He then asked if she ever saw Ms. Craft bring one of the alleged victims with her to the pool. She replied, “No, I did not.”
“How did you know the (name withheld) family?” “They were in my Sunday school class at Oakwood Baptist Church in Chickamauga,” she replied.
During questioning regarding her relationship which showed the character of the defendant, Chris Arnt, assistant district attorney, objected citing Georgia case law. Mr. King retorted with more case law citing that since the prosecution had previously opened the door for rebuttal it should be admitted. Judge Brian House sustained the prosecution’s objection.
Mr. King then had to change his line of questioning as it related to the current witness.
Mr. King asked about the relationship between Ms. Craft and her daughter to which Ms. Potter replied that the relationship was very good. She said further, “(Unnamed) had a cheerleader type attitude.”
Ms. Potter related the story of a Florida vacation the two families shared. She also said she did not observe any abnormalities in the relationship between the mother and daughter.
Mr. King asked about the relationship between two of the girls. She stated that, “(Unnamed) is a little older than (Unnamed), so (the younger girl) would follow the (older girl) around quite a bit.”
Ms. Potter told the jury that (unnamed) spent time many times over at her house and she never noticed her having any nightmares.
The witness related that her children at one point began to go home with Ms. Craft so they would not have to go to an aftercare program.
She related how that once Ms. Craft and her current husband, David, were married they continued to go on family vacations together.
“When did Tonya and David move to Chickamauga?” She answered, “I believe it was sometime in the spring of 2006. I didn’t know her very well back then.”
“Now, the swimming pool incident, did you see Tonya there?” “I saw her there on several occasions.” “Did you ever see (one of the alleged victims) there with Tonya?” “Yes.” “Did she (girl) ever act afraid of Tonya?” “No, she didn’t.”
“Did you ever see (another of the girls) interact with Tonya?” “She may have been there, I’m not sure.”
Mr. King, “Did you ever hear of Tonya giving the children a bath?” “Other than her own children, no,” was Ms. Potter’s answer.
Ms. Potter also said she did not recall ever seeing any of the other parents’ children there when she would pick up her own children after school.
Going back to the birthday party mentioned by previous witnesses, Mr. King asked if the witness had seen (unnamed) with Tonya at the party and she confirmed that she had.
Ms. Potter related that she knew (parent of first alleged victim) and Ms. Craft had been good friends and that although they were still friends they were not as close.
Ms. Potter proceeded to identify several of the children previously mentioned as present at various events at the Craft residence. She also identified photos from their own vacations.
Asked about Ms. Craft’s own children, the witness burst into tears because, she said, it had been years since Ms. Craft had seen her daughter.
As the woman continued to wipe tears from her face, she continued to look at and identify various pictures of the children. She related how each of the children were friends with the Craft children.
Describing her relationship with the mother of the first child to make an accusation, she recalled that they had met in the fall of 2006 and they were barely acquaintances.
“In the two years up to 2008 how many times did you speak with (her)?” “Maybe five times,” Ms. Potter replied.
She also related that Ms. Craft had refused to sleep with David until they were married. She affirmed that (the mother) had a second wedding for Tonya and David at her home.
She said that (the mother) was the matron of honor and she herself was the second bridesmaid.
She then identified all the children that were in the wedding, including all three alleged victims of Ms. Craft.
Ms. Potter described one of the alleged victims as a “very worldy child” and said she appears more mature than the other girls.
After the witness described one of the girls as “striking a movie star pose,” she was asked if she knew that (the girl) had ever been in any movies. She said she did and it was two movies.
“Do you know if she was ever intimidated by Tonya Craft?” asked the attorney. “No, she wasn’t.”
Ms. Potter said she never saw any reluctance on the part of any of the girls to be around Ms. Craft.
The witness also stated that she never saw any actions by the child that would indicate a hatred of Ms. Craft.
The friend also reported that she had noticed the girl who was in the movies doing anything that was inappropriate. She said, “Absolutely,” and went on to describe her as dancing a choreographed song and dance called ‘The Hump.’ She said the parents never objected or told her to stop.
Later, she said the mom told her that “she hated Tonya for what she had done to David and called her a ‘GD b----.’ She refused to say the words for the jury. This was after the Crafts had separated in April 2008 before any allegations had been made in this case. Ms. Potter later testified that the two are back together at this time.
She next told of a conversation she had with Kim Walker where Ms. Walker told her that (the mother) was harassing her to have her daughter examined.
Ms. Potter testified she had never been contacted by any law enforcement agency even though her children were with Ms. Craft every day for a prolonged period. She went on to say that she was called by the DA’s office several times before the original trial date.
“Have you ever seen (unnamed) dirty with her hair matted and smelling bad?” asked Mr. King. “Only when she was out playing all day,” was the answer.
Mr. King used his white board to draw out a timeline of occurrences that been discussed. Ms. Potter confirmed it was accurate.
“Did (the Craft children) spend the night with you after 2007?” Mr. King asked. “Possibly,” she said.
“Did you ever see Tonya slap (child) in the head?” “No, sir.” “Did you see her push (child) down stairs?” “No.”
“Have you ever heard Tonya listen to rap music?” “No, as I recall she listens mostly to country.” “The music that was supplied for the wedding, the song, ‘My Hump,’ did you ever hear Tonya listening to that?” “No.”
On cross examination, Mr. Gregor got right to the point, immediately bringing into question why Ms. Potter had not contacted law enforcement about this case. She answered, "My children were not affected.”
Mr. Gregor asked the witness, “Have you ever talked to anyone and turned purple and hyperventilated?” “No.” He then asked multiple questions regarding her not contacting law enforcement officials.
The questioning then moved to Ms. Craft’s first husband, Gary Baumgardener, and his hiring of Joel Henke (Ms. Craft’s second husband) as her fitness trainer.
The prosecution pointed out that Ms. Craft had had an affair with Mr. Henke, then left Mr. Baumgardener for him. Ms. Potter intimated that she had very little knowledge in this area.
The witness did say she knew of the affair, but not that Mr. Baumgardener had paid for Mr. Henke’s services.
When asked if she knew about Ms. Craft and Mr. Henke being caught “in the act” she replied that she did not. “And were you aware that when caught, Ms. Craft said ‘I’m getting a massage.’” She said she was not. Mr. Gregor then asked, “Is (massage) a code word for something?” “I don’t know.”
Mr. Gregor proceeded to inquire of Ms. Potter if she thought this affair was a Christian thing for someone to do since they later said they would not sleep with their fiancé until married. Ms. Potter said she really didn’t have an opinion about the idea.
At that point the defense objected saying that Mr. Gregor was dealing in character assassination. Hearing the prosecutions answer, Judge House overruled the objection.
“Did the defendant use alcohol to excess?” “No.” Mr. Gregor then went into a series of questions concerning alleged alcohol use by Ms. Craft and the Potters.
The ADA continued, asking questions about the relationship between the Crafts and the Potters.
Using the preamble of “good faith knowledge,” the prosecutor sought to bring out instance after instance of promiscuity on the part of Ms. Craft.
Once such allegation was when David Craft came home early one day and allegedly caught Ms. Craft performing a “strip-tease” dance in front of Tammy Holsomback.
The witness described the first girl to testify as “a little movie star” and told the jury that she “knew too much” and was “worldly.”
At one point, Mr. Gregor asked the witness if she knew about “THE Gala.” Although she had not attended, she said that she had heard about it, but not about the accusations that Ms. Craft was “dancing provocatively, grinding on every man there except her husband.” Mr. Gregor started to bring in to evidence that Ms. Craft had been seen dancing with the zipper down on the back of her dress with “her bottom in a thong hanging out,” but was interrupted by a sustained objection by Mr. King.
Mr. Gregor then asked the witness if she knew of any lesbian or bi-sexual relationships of Ms. Craft. Ms. Potter answered, “No.” She said also that she did not know Jen Sullivan, Ms. Craft’s female friend with whom she had been out with the night she suspected she had been drugged and woke up in bed with Ms. Sullivan.
“Do you know anything about a time that Ms. Craft came to the door of her home dressed only in a towel to meet a first-time date?” “No, I do not,” said the witness.
Mr. Gregor asked, “Do you know any narcissists?” “No, I do not.”
“Would a good person molest a child?” “No.” “Would a good person insert a finger or thumb in a vagina or rectum?” “No.”
Mr. Gregor: “Do you know of an incident where the defendant sent a provocative photo of herself in a cowgirl outfit?” “No.”
Once again the defense lodged an objection over the prosecution’s questions.
Mr. Gregor, hearing the defense’s objection, turned to the gallery and blurted out “Your honor, I’m tired of them playing out to these folks, the camera back there, you know the rules, I didn’t mean to point at you, … I’m tired of them playing these games.”
Judge House then overruled the defense objection.
“Do you know about Ms. Craft’s website?” “Yes, although I’m not a poster.” Her website is “truthfortonya.com.” He then asked a series of questions, going to whether or not Ms. Potter believed this trial was a conspiracy “to get” Ms. Craft. She replied that she did not hold those thoughts.
One of Mr. Gregor’s final questions was, “Which one of Tonya’s truths do you believe?” Ms. Potter, glancing at the defendant, replied, “That she’s innocent.”
The ADA then asked, “Whose conspiracy is this? Is it the sheriff’s office? Is it the DA’s office? Is it Catoosa County’s?”
“It’s the parents’ conspiracy,” she answered. “Is it Joel Henke’s conspiracy?” “Probably,” was the reply.
Stepping up, Mr. King apologized to the witness for "the way she had been treated" under cross-examination to which the judge snapped, “That’s not appropriate, Mr. King.”
The defense’s next witness was the 12-year old daughter of Ms. Potter.
Dr. Demosthenes Lorandos asked several background questions before asking her if she was ever at the Craft residence at the same time as the girls who are alleging molestation. Her answer was only a couple of times.
When asked about a time when (name withheld) was at the Craft wedding and if she saw any dancing, her reply was “Yes, (child) was pole dancing by the pool.” When asked how she felt about it, she replied, “It was embarrassing.”
She also testified that she had never observed Ms. Craft slap anyone or throw them down the stairs.
Dr. Lorandos then asked if the girl missed Miss Tonya. Her reply, “Yes.”
The defense closed with one final question, “Did you ever see Miss Tonya do anything bad to anyone?” “No,” was her answer.
The final witness of the day was the husband of the woman who testified in the morning session that she was best friends with Ms. Craft, as well as the father of the 12-year-old who also took the stand Tuesday morning.
Cary King basically asked the same questions of Mike Potter that he asked his wife earlier in the day. He did get the idea of whether or not there had been an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Potter and Ms. Craft out of the way early when he asked, “Have you ever had any relationship with Tonya other than friendship?” Other than knowing her from the baseball team both their sons played on his answer was “no.”
His answers to most of the questions matched the ones his wife had given. He did tell Mr. Gregor under cross-examination that he had no idea about the dress or bathing suit purchases, as he was playing golf while the women shopped. He did say he thought his wife had loaned Ms. Craft money to buy an evening gown for a dinner they were going to go to.
Mr. Potter confirmed, as had his wife and daughter, that he had been at the wedding for Tonya and David Craft held at the home of the first young girl to claim she had been abused my Ms. Craft. He said that the first time he had met the little girls’ mother was at the wedding.
Again the defense had him identify some of the people in various photographs taken at the wedding. He pointed out the three girls alleging abuse and how they were always in the vicinity of the former kindergarten teacher. He also testified that none of the girls acted scared of Ms. Craft.
When Mr. King went specifically to the first girl who alleged abuse and in whose home the wedding was taking place, Mr. Potter said that he did not notice anything that indicated her being afraid of Ms. Craft, and that she was always around her.
Asked about the girl, he said she was an “outspoken and direct child.” When he was asked to talk about his time at the wedding, he was asked if they left the party early. He replied, “It was late for us – around 9 o’clock.” “Why did you leave at that time?” “I was a little uncomfortable, people were being thrown in the pool. I was uncomfortable with the music – it was vulgar. Some of the dancing the kids were doing made me uncomfortable.” “Which child?” He named the first child to make the accusations against Ms. Craft.
He told the jury that the words, style, everything that went with it was vulgar.
Mr. Gregor started his cross-examination by asking Mr. Potter why he had not informed law enforcement about what he knew. Just as his wife had done, he told the prosecutor he had not called because his own child had not been affected.
The prosecutor asked if he had ever been at other weddings to which Mr. Potter said he had. “Did you ever know a woman not to be involved in picking out her own music for a wedding?” Mr. Potter answered, “I got married in Scottsboro at the Justice of the Peace and ate dinner in Trenton on the way home.”
That ended the day of testimony and Judge House recessed the trial until 9 o’clock Wednesday.
The trial is open to the public. However, no cell phones, other recording devices or lighters are allowed into the courthouse.
Attendees must enter through metal detectors at the outside doors and then undergo a second one as they go into the courtroom.
(You can email Dennis Norwood at email@example.com. NewsieNoogan and Chattanoogacom have Twitter updates though out the day.)