Preacher, son remain in jail after Cherry Blossom arrest

lfabian@macon.comApril 18, 2014 

Larry Craft travels the country preaching on the street during festivals, fairs and sporting events.

He and his son Josiah haven’t gone anywhere but jail since they were arrested March 22 at Central City Park during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Both are charged with willful obstruction of law enforcement officers, and Josiah Craft, 23, also is charged with carrying deadly weapons to or at public gatherings.

A magistrate judge granted bond for both, but they refused to sign waivers stating they would be back for court, said Lt. Sean DeFoe, public information officer for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

“They could have a bond and get out, but that’s their decision,” DeFoe said.

Friends and family of the two say the men had a right to be carrying signs and distributing fliers in a public park.

“I know they don’t like our message, but it doesn’t matter. We have a right to say it,” said Stephanie Craft, Larry’s wife and Josiah’s mother, who planned to return to Macon on Friday to visit them and further look into the charges.

Deputies say the Cherry Blossom Festival signed a contract to reserve the grounds for the 10-day event and posted signs banning weapons and backpacks.

Capt. Eric Walker, who arrested the pair, said he consulted with festival organizers and approached the Craft family at the park and told them twice that they were welcome to move outside the park to share their message and materials.

Larry Craft’s response: “No sir, I’m not going anywhere,” Walker recalled.

He said he had a constitutional right to be there.

The two were handcuffed and taken to a mobile command center where deputies discovered Josiah Craft’s gun, which was permitted but still prohibited under the festival regulations.

Now the Crafts are requesting a jury trial. The men are sitting behind bars as Stephanie Craft drives the family bus with eight of their 12 children. She said the family is continually travelling and doesn’t have a permanent address, although they own some property in Kite.

Coming up with a $5,000 retainer for an attorney is tough, and the American Center for Law and Justice refused to take their case, she said.

“He doesn’t want a court-appointed lawyer because they’re in the system and will likely push for a plea,” Stephanie Craft said.

They were referred to another civil liberties defense group, but the organization only was interested in representing them on the federal level, she said.

This isn’t the first time her husband was arrested in Macon during the festival.

A 10-minute YouTube video details another incident at the Mulberry Street Arts and Crafts festival in 2010.

The group originally was told they could preach on the sidewalk, but after numerous complaints about their raised voices, Macon police ordered them to leave the downtown area that was designated for the festival.

When told they were about to be arrested, the street preaching group started to disperse as the video camera kept rolling.

Larry Craft stalled in the street yelling, “Can’t preach in America,” and was handcuffed and led to the patrol car while still shouting: “I tell you America, you can’t preach the gospel here no more.”

This year, the Crafts had planned to visit Cherry Blossom and then head to the Masters in Augusta, where Craft also was arrested last year near the entrance to one of the gates.

Another YouTube posting of that arrest states Craft, who was dressed in a “Trust Jesus,” “Repent or Perish” T-shirt, was found not guilty based on the video evidence.

Stephanie Craft said a video also exists from last month’s incident in Central City Park, but she had not been able to retrieve the camera, which was in her son’s possession during the arrest.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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