RINGGOLD, Ga. -- What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but when Vegas comes to Catoosa County, word gets out.
Friday, just three days after Catoosa County prosecutors failed in their bid to convict Tonya Craft on 22 counts child sex crimes, the agency that played a key role in building the prosecution's case, held a Vegas-themed fundraiser.
The event's timing and its theme are mere coincidence, Child Advocacy Center of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit supports say. But it's hard not to notice some irony between the Tonya Craft prosecution and the flashy outdoor fundraiser.
"None of that was planned," said Alvin Mashburn, the owner of the farm where the Vegas fundraiser was held. "This is about helping abused kids. ... All the supporters here don't know nothing about what's going on, nothing about the trial, it's just about helping the kids."
Prosecutors used testimony about Ms. Craft's excessive drinking, a trip to Las Vegas and her preference for thong underwear in a character assault that apparently didn't sway jurors.
On Friday, Vegas showgirls in pink, sparkly head dresses, one-piece bathing suits mixed with the crowd as heavy hors d'oeuvres were served along with beer and mixed drinks.
The fundraiser is held every weekend after Mother's Day, and though the theme is different each year, proceeds always go to help fund the center.
The Child Advocacy Center and the district attorney's office, while allies, are separate entities, said Ione Sells, the center's director.
"It's their case," Ms. Sells said, referring to law enforcement and prosecutors. "We all meet together to determine if it's a founded case or an unfounded case, and of course the D.A. and everyone is involved. After that, it goes to a grand jury and 24 people have to decide if it's going to be tried or not."
The Advocacy Center plans to make changes following the not guilty verdict, but Ms. Sells said she stands behind counselor Lori Evans, who was highly criticized by Ms. Craft's defense attorneys.
"I want to send them to (training on) how to be a better witness," Ms. Sells said. "But that's something you don't experience until you have this kind of job."
The criticism is painful, but Ms. Sells and others are focused on the future and the mound of cases that are in front of them.
"It hurts because we work so hard, and all of us are so passionate about child abuse," she said.
The center's one full-time interviewer will actually benefit from Friday's festivities. She'll get extra training in forensic interviewing in the coming year.
"We did our job before the trial and we'll continue to do our job after the trial. It's not our job to decide which cases get prosecuted," said Holly Kittle, who joined the Advocacy Center more than a year ago. "We are here to help the kids. That's what we did, and that's what we'll continue to do."