Judge hears appeal of Grinstead gag order

Judge hears appeal of Grinstead gag order
Judge Melanie Cross issued the gag order (Source: Tift Circuit)
Tara Grinstead (Source: WALB)
Tara Grinstead (Source: WALB)
Ryan Duke in court on February 23 (Source: WALB)
Ryan Duke in court on February 23 (Source: WALB)

OCILLA, GA (WALB) - Thursday afternoon, attorneys representing multiple media organizations went before the judge asking the court to modify, or lift, the gag order placed on the case.

For about an hour, attorneys from both sides went back and forth presenting their arguments.

In the end, the judge made no decision. She said she needs more time to look at the appeals.

Tara Grinstead was a teacher and former beauty queen in Irwin County. She went missing in October of 2005.

For years, the GBI followed leads surrounding her disappearance.

On February 24, the GBI arrested Ryan Duke and charged him with the murder of Tara Grinstead. Four days later, Judge Melanie Cross issued a gag order on the case.

On March 3, Bo Dukes was also arrested in connection with Grinstead's murder. He's facing several charges, including tampering with evidence.

The gag order issued says that to protect Ryan Duke's right to a fair trial, the prosecution, all law enforcement, the defendant, counsel for the defendant, potential witnesses, expert and other court personnel, and family members of both the defendant and alleged victim cannot talk about anything relating to the case.

With the gag order in place, the media cannot get any more information about the investigation.

Judge Melanie Cross made no decision on Thursday, saying that she needs time to look through the appeals.

Attorneys representing multiple media outlets had two basic arguments.

They claimed the court has no proof there is prejudice that would not allow Ryan Duke to have a fair trial, and that the gag order is too broad.

With the gag order being so broad, the attorneys claimed the gag order violates prior restraint on other individuals, it prevents the media from talking to people who don't believe they are even part of the case.

They argued there are other actions the court could have taken before a gag order was put in place.

They claim that defendants do have a right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment, however, that doesn't mean the jury will have absolutely no prior information about the case.

Duke's public defender submitted another proposal to the judge to add anyone involved with Bo Dukes case to the gag order. Bo's attorney wasn't in the courtroom on Thursday. The D.A. said that he spoke with Bo's attorney. He supports the proposal.

Ryan's attorney argued that it is an issue of prejudice on the case, and submitted 17 examples of media coverage from the past 21 days as proof.

He claims even after the gag order was issued, the media coverage has been constant and pervasive.

A media attorney fought back, saying that this was the first time evidence was even being presented.

"You're being handed now a volume of press coverage and being told this is the evidentiary basis to support the order. But it clearly demonstrates there wasn't one as the law requires at the time the order was entered," said Derek Bauer, an attorney representing WXIA.

Media attorneys said they are hopeful the judge will reconsider the gag order, and we will likely learn the judge's ruling next week.

Some analyst have weighed in on the decision agreeing that the order is broad.

"To say that the citizens of Irwin County and the local community in general can't talk about it, that goes a little bit to far," legal expert Philip Holloway said.

If the judge does not lift the order, we likely won't learn any new information from the investigation until Ryan goes to trial. That could be a year from now.

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