Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
Grayson County jurors convicted Kristoffer Thomas Craft of felony murder Wednesday, after he drunkenly crashed his pickup on a Whitewright highway in 2017, killing his 7-year-old son who rode as a passenger in the vehicle. The jury of seven men and five women took less than an hour to return its verdict.
“I hope this verdict sends a clear message to people that it’s their responsibility when they put a child in a car to make sure that the child has a seat belt on and that obviously the parents aren’t intoxicated and just pay attention,” Interim Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said.
Craft was traveling west on FM 814 on April 7, 2017 when he failed to stop his vehicle at the intersection with State Highway 160, left the roadway, entered a ditch and flew through the air before slamming into an unoccupied home. His son, Kolton Craft, was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash and died of blunt force trauma injuries. Kristoffer Craft cried throughout the trial — largely during testimony about his son’s injuries and at the sight of video and photo evidence — but showed little emotion as Judge Jim Fallon announced the verdict.
Craft’s defense attorney Pete Schulte said his client was devastated by the death of his son and by the conviction. Schulte said his legal team would likely appeal the conviction and that he felt a charge of intoxication manslaughter would have been more appropriate. Craft’s bond was revoked following the hearing.
“It was an unintentional crime,” Schulte said. “It’s not like he intentionally killed his own son. So when we talk about murder I want everybody to know this was not a regular murder case.”
The trial stretched for three days, over which jurors heard from numerous witnesses, including neighbors, law enforcement officials, medical personnel, a crash reconstruction expert and Kristoffer Craft’s own mother.
Prosecutors alleged that Craft’s actions while operating the truck were “clearly dangerous” to human life, thereby warranting the felony murder charge. Two separate blood tests taken after the crash showed Craft had a blood alcohol concentration between .137 and .145 — well over the legal limit of .08. Data recovered from the vehicle’s black box recorder indicated that Craft was traveling between 57 and 60 miles per hour when he traveled through the intersection and left the road. Cell phone logs showed Craft placed at least two outgoing calls and received two incoming calls in the five minutes before the wreck.
“We were able to provide forensic evidence through cell phone records that the defendant was clearly on his phone at the time of the accident,” Smith said. “He was clearly intoxicated. He clearly didn’t maintain a proper lookout and, I think, all the evidence is pretty clear that he was doing 60 miles per hour when he blew through that “T” intersection, struck the bar ditch, and that truck flew into the house and killed Kolton instantly. It was a horrific death.”
Dallas County Medical Examiner Steven Lenfest testified that Kolton Craft sustained numerous blunt force trauma injuries, including bleeding around the brain and spinal cord, a fractured vertebrae, multiple broken ribs, a lacerated lung and internal bleeding in his chest and abdomen. Wilson N. Jones Regional Hospital’s Chief of Surgery Cody Starnes testified that despite their best efforts, medical personnel were unable to restart Kolton’s heart and that he showed no signs of life on the 25 minute ambulance ride to the hospital.
“That kid had no shot,” Starnes said.
Neighbors who ran to the scene of the crash testified that rather than tending to his son, Craft exited the truck and began throwing beer cans in the bed of his pickup after they had fallen out of the vehicle. They also said Craft attempted to leave the scene, asked them not to call 911 and physically tried to prevent them from reaching Kolton through the jammed passenger door. Responding police officers testified that they found numerous beer cans in Craft’s vehicle.
Police body camera footage presented to the court showed Craft admitting to officers that he had consumed at least three beers in the hours preceding the wreck and that he was distracted by a phone call he received while driving.
“My phone went off, I answered it and missed the stop sign,” Craft said on the footage. “That was my bad.”
Craft’s mother, Pam Thompson, testified on behalf of her son on Wednesday and described the wreck as a “bad accident.” She said her grandson frequently wore his seat belt, but that “he was just a little boy” and that “sometimes, they do what what you want them to and sometimes they don’t.”
On cross examination, Smith asked Thompson, “Who’s job is it to see that they do what they should?”
“I guess it’s the adult’s who is with them at the time,” Thompson replied, after a long pause.
Following the verdict, Thompson spoke critically of Smith and the charge he pursued.
“Kris was willing to plead guilty to intoxication manslaughter because that’s what it was,” Thompson said. “But they removed that charge because the prosecutor wants what he wants. He sought a conviction, he never sought justice. All he did was revictimize the entire family.”
Smith described the case as a clear tragedy, but said Craft’s actions directly resulted in the death of his son and that his office had to pursue a charge which it felt was proportional to the crime.
“We don’t look at really what we desire for the defendant,” Smith said. “And while we certainly do take into consideration the family’s desires, this is a difficult situation. The family is both the family of the defendant and the victim. But we had to look at this from a public safety perspective and we had a dead 7-year-old child.”
Craft is expected to be sentenced within six to eight weeks.
Herald Democrat Criminal Justice Editor Jerrie Whitely contributed to this article.