Grinstead gag order challenge set for GA Supreme Court

Grinstead gag order challenge set for GA Supreme Court
Tara Grinstead (Source: Family)
Gag order issued in Tara Grinstead's murder investigation. (Source: Superior Court of Irwin County Clerk's Office)
Gag order issued in Tara Grinstead's murder investigation. (Source: Superior Court of Irwin County Clerk's Office)
Bo Dukes (Source: Jail booking document)
Bo Dukes (Source: Jail booking document)
Ryan Duke in court on February 23 (Source: WALB)
Ryan Duke in court on February 23 (Source: WALB)

ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - Several media organizations are appealing a gag order by the Irwin County Superior Court in the high-profile murder case of Tara Grinstead.

Inside the courtroom

It was a packed courtroom on Tuesday as the attorneys from both sides went before Georgia's highest court.

Derek Bauer, representing several media outlets began the hearing with his arguments.

Bauer argued the gag order is a prior restraint on the public. He said it was a backdoor gag order on the media because it doesn't allow the media to find new information about the case.

"This case involved the rarest of judicial remedies, a prior restraint in the form of a gag order and the need for clarity from this court of the legal standards governing such order," said Bauer. "We respectfully ask the court to vacate that order."

Michael Gowen, Ryan Duke's attorney, followed with his arguments for the state and Duke, saying the gag order helps protect Duke in a fair trial.

"Immediately subsequent to the press conference our client was brought into the courtroom," said Gowen.

Gowen started by responding to a question by Chief Justice Harris Hines about what considerations his office gave to the court about the gag order. Gowen explained Duke was shown to the public immediately in his prison suit.

Justices questioned Gowen hard about the need for the gag order. Gowen was hesitant at times, using evidence from other trials to support his argument that law enforcement must remain a part of the gag order.

You can watch some of the appeal hearing below.

After court was adjourned

Both attorneys said they were happy with their arguments.

"It does not prohibit the media from covering the case, but we believe it would limit things that were said that were potentially prejudice a jury pool in our case," said Gowen.

"I think they made the best argument they could, but just as the trial court, didn't have any evidence to support the entry of a gag order. They didn't have much of a case to argue from," explained Bauer.

The court has several months before they have to issue a ruling.

What led to Tuesday's hearing

On February 23, 2017, after allegedly receiving a tip, the GBI arrested Ryan Alexander Duke and charged him with Grinstead's murder.

Within a week of Duke's first appearance, Judge Melanie Cross issued a gag order after Duke's attorney asked the court to bar trial participants from commenting on the case.

The gag order prevented law enforcement and attorneys associated with the case, and family members of the victim and suspects from speaking to the media.

Judge Cross wrote that the gag order was necessary to prevent pre-trial publicity so that to ensure that accused killer Ryan Duke could receive a fair trial.

On March 2, 2017, WXIA-TV and WMAZ-TV challenged the order, saying it was too vague.

On March 24, 2017, the judge modified the order. The new order still limits which individuals can speak in this case, but clarifies what information they are allowed to share.

Until the case goes to court, the DA, counsel for the defendant Ryan Duke, Bo Dukes, the court staff and current and past members of law enforcement that worked on the investigation cannot release any information relating to the character, criminal record of the defendants or possibility of a plea.

The judge also clarified that the order doesn't apply to members of the media.

You can read the full order below.

The attorneys for the media organizations are S. Derek Bauer, Ian Byrnside, and Cody Wigington.

The attorneys for the State and Duke are Paul Bowden, District Attorney, and John Mobley, II.

Copyright 2017 WALB. All rights reserved.

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