GA Supreme Court vacates Grinstead gag order

GA Supreme Court vacates Grinstead gag order
The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled to vacate a gag order placed on and Irwin County murder case. (Source: WALB)
The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled to vacate a gag order placed on and Irwin County murder case. (Source: WALB)
Jim Zachary is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. (Source: WALB)
Jim Zachary is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. (Source: WALB)

IRWIN CO., GA (WALB) - A state supreme court ruling is sending a message to prosecutors, attorneys and judges across Georgia. And it stems from a case in South Georgia.

Monday morning the state's highest court ruled to overturn a gag order in the Tara Grinstead murder case.

While the judge eventually modified the order, investigators and attorneys have not been able to speak about the case until now.

While no major developments in the Tara Grinstead case have been released by police, media attorneys said the ruling is a significant victory for First Amendment rights in the state of Georgia.

"We do believe that it sends a very strong message that First Amendment rights will be protected in Georgia," said Jim Zachary, vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and Deputy National Editor for Community Newspapers Holdings Inc. "While the courts did not go so far as to say gag orders are unconstitutional in Georgia what they did say is that in this case, the superior court just went too far."

In its decision, the supreme court said while there has been extensive media interest and coverage in the case, there has been no reasonable likelihood of prejudice.

"This is a significant ruling for the public's right to know in criminal trials generally," said attorney Derek Bauer, who represented the media in their argument.

Bauer told WALB the supreme court's ruling confirms the media has standing to intervene to protect its access to sources.

We first saw Bauer in Irwin County court in March of 2017 after Judge Melanie Cross issued a gag order in the Tara Grinstead murder case that silenced investigators, attorneys and family from speaking with the media.

After hearing arguments, Judge Cross modified the gag order to just attorneys and investigators. Still little details about the case came from the new order.

MORE: Judge clears family, witnesses to discuss details of Tara Grinstead case

"I think if you look at the level of reporting that led up to the entry of the gag order and what has happened since it is night and day," said Bauer. "There's really been almost no access to new information from sources."

This October, Bauer led arguments in front of supreme court justices. On Monday, those justices came to a decision in favor of Bauer, and what he said is the public's favor.

"I think there is no basis going forward to challenge the press right to go to court to challenge a gag order even if it doesn't cover the press," said Bauer.

Impact on the Tara Grinstead Case

On Monday investigators did not release any new details, but attorneys did provide updates in the case.

The state said it is ready to go to trial for Ryan Duke, charged with Grinstead's murder.

They said the trial could be as early as this fall, but it's likely the defense will need more time.

As for Bo Dukes, who is charged with helping destroy and hide Grinstead's body, the state is still gathering evidence.

That trial is not likely to happen in the next few months.

Copyright 2018 WALB. All rights reserved.