Charges dropped for street preacher jailed since Cherry Blossom Festival

lfabian@macon.comApril 29, 2014 

A jailed traveling street preacher and his son were released Monday after spending 38 days in the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center.

The charges aganist them were dropped, but the family plans to file a federal lawsuit.

Larry Patrick Craft, 54, and Josiah James Craft, 23, were arrested after refusing to leave Cherry Blossom Festival activities at Central City Park where they were distributing biblical tracts on March 22.

“It’s just the days that we live in,” Craft said the day after his release. “I feel at this point we need to protect our civil rights.”

Bibb County Solicitor-General Rebecca Grist issued a statement Tuesday morning noting that charges against the Crafts were “legally sound and prosecutable,” but it wasn’t in the public’s interest for them to remain in jail.

After their arraignment two weeks ago, the Crafts asked for jury trials, which couldn’t be scheduled until June, Grist said.

If convicted at trial, they likely would have been sentenced to time served as they would have been in jail for three months by then.

“The charges filed against the Crafts do not ordinarily result in any jail time to be served, but rather carry a probated sentence,” Grist said in her statement.

Larry Craft said in court last week that someone from Grist’s office tried to get them to sign paperwork upgrading the charges to criminal trespassing, but they refused and asked for jury trials.

The same woman stood up five minutes later, stating she wasn’t familiar with the case, he said.

Bibb sheriff’s 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 earlier this month.

Craft maintains he has a constitutional right to be there, in a public place.

“I’m just a private citizen, passing out Gospel tracts in a park,” Larry Craft said.

The two were led to a mobile command center where deputies discovered Josiah Craft’s gun, which had a concealed carry permit, but was still prohibited under the festival regulations, Walker had said.

A magistrate judge initially set bond on charges of willful obstruction of law enforcement officers, but the Crafts refused to sign the paperwork required to post bond.

A charge against the son for carrying deadly weapons to or at public gatherings also was dropped, the records show.

The Crafts travel the country with most of their dozen children in a bus and preach on the street at major events and gatherings.

The family had planned to visit the Masters golf tournament in Augusta after the Cherry Blossom Festival.

“The whole thing was ridiculous,” said Stephanie Craft, Larry’s wife and Josiah’s mother. “Those officers, because they didn’t like what we were doing, interrupted our life greatly.”

The Crafts were headed north Tuesday, out of Georgia, but expect to be back later this summer to file a lawsuit, which will include video of their arrests in Macon.

While in jail, Larry Craft said he was denied eight different Bibles his family sent, but was able to minister to other inmates and four made a profession of faith.

“It’s like a foreign mission trip. I can serve the Lord in there, too,” he said. “The Bible says the truth will set you free, so I was as much free there than anywhere else.”

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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