Jury takes 38 minutes to convict man in 2008 Fort Worth rape

FORT WORTH -- A Tarrant County jury took just 38 minutes Wednesday to convict a 23-year-old man of raping a longtime family friend in 2008 after threatening to kill her with a bat and a kitchen knife.

Today, jurors are expected to decide punishment for Jeremy Dontae Craft after hearing about his violent past -- from the 2000 sexual assault of a teenage boy in a state juvenile facility to his threats last week to kill state District Judge Elizabeth Berry.

Craft, who caused his third courtroom disturbance Tuesday by shouting obscenities at visiting Judge Phillip Vick and prosecutor Christy Jack, told Vick on Wednesday that he wanted to tell jurors "my side of the story."

But Craft decided not to testify after Vick told him outside the jury's presence that if he took the stand, prosecutors could tell jurors about his violent past before they decided his guilt or innocence. Otherwise, Vick said, jurors would not hear about his record until the punishment phase.

When the trial resumed, Craft sat quietly at the defense table, wearing ankle chains, handcuffs and a shock belt as defense attorney Ronald Couch and prosecutors Nelda Cacciotti and Jack delivered closing arguments.

Couch suggested that Craft did not commit aggravated sexual assault May 29, 2008, as the 20-year-old victim had testified Tuesday. Couch said that Craft, who was living with the woman and her mother, had consensual sex with the woman.

Seven deputies and two district attorney's investigators were standing by in case of another outburst. But Craft did not react when the nine men and three women on the jury delivered their guilty verdict.

Craft could receive life in prison.

Punishment phase

The punishment phase began immediately. Witnesses included a 26-year-old man who testified that Craft had threatened to kill him and forced him to perform oral sex while both were incarcerated in the Texas Youth Commission's Gainesville State School in 2000.

Craft was 13 at the time and had been in the juvenile system since he was 11, said a case manager who supervised Craft until he was released at age 18.

The case manager, Johnny Walker, testified that Craft's disciplinary file listed more than 600 violent and disruptive incidents, including assaults, threats, vandalism, possession of weapons and other prohibited items, and disruptions to TYC programs. He was twice sent to another facility for anger management classes, Walker said.

Couch said Craft was a special-education student and received no visits from any relative during his years at the Gainesville facility.

Jurors also heard from Terry Bradshaw, one of Berry's court reporters, who detailed Craft's outburst during a 20-minute pretrial hearing March 4 in which he repeatedly threatened to kill the judge.

With obvious reluctance, Bradshaw repeated the obscene names that Craft called Berry and the ways he threatened to kill her, including "cutting her heart out." He testified that Craft told Berry that he wished her family would be killed in a car wreck and that she would burn to death.

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Craft on a retaliation charge for threatening Berry. Because of the threats, Vick was assigned to hear the case.

Other testimony

Several Tarrant County jailers testified about times that Craft, who was confined to the most secure cells, was caught with homemade weapons, threatened and assaulted jail employees, and fought with jailers who tried to restrain him during outbursts.

Twice, Craft held up his handcuffed wrists when jailers were asked to identify him. Vick had tried to conceal the restraints from jurors during the trial.

The most recent incidents, the jailers testified, occurred Feb. 26 and March 1, before his trial began. On Feb. 26, one jailer testified, staffers found a weapon made from a broom handle, sharpened parts of a pen and strips from a mattress cover. The jailer said the weapon was found beneath Craft's mattress.

On March 1, a jailer testified, Craft used a cup to shatter a small window in his cell and pushed glass fragments into the hall.

Prosecutors also introduced evidence of Craft's criminal convictions -- a 2005 assault on a TYC staff member, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison, and a 2009 conviction for unlawfully restraining a woman, for which he received probation.

MARTHA DELLER, 817-390-7857