Grinstead case: Duke's case continued, trial may not start until 2019

Grinstead case; Duke's case continued trial may not start until 2019
Tara Grinstead (Source: Family)
Tara Grinstead (Source: Family)
Duke was not in the Irwin County Superior Court Tuesday for a calendar call. (Source: WALB)
Duke was not in the Irwin County Superior Court Tuesday for a calendar call. (Source: WALB)
Duke's public defender and members of the DA's office discussed whether they were ready for trial. (Source: WALB)
Duke's public defender and members of the DA's office discussed whether they were ready for trial. (Source: WALB)

IRWIN CO., GA (WALB) - The murder trial of Ryan Duke may not begin until 2019, following a continuance in Irwin County Superior Court Tuesday morning.

Duke is charged with the murder of teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead, who disappeared in 2005.

Tuesday, the court held its calendar call for the trial week of October 1, 2018. Several cases were set for trial, but Duke's was not one of them.

Judge Bill Reinhardt granted a continuance because of a pending hearing in the case against Duke and the possible change of defense attorneys for Duke.

Duke was not in court.

Both the public defender's office, which has been representing Duke, and the district attorney's office told Judge Reinhardt that official notice of a change of defense attorney had been not filed, though it is expected.

Ashleigh Merchant, a criminal defense attorney out of the Atlanta area, told WALB on Monday that she and her husband, John, are taking Duke's case.

As of Tuesday afternoon, that had not been officially recorded in the court yet.

Attorney Philip Holloway is familiar with the case against Duke, after consulting on the podcast, 'Up and Vanished,' which focused on Grinstead's disappearance.

Tuesday, Holloway explained to WALB that in general, a change in defense attorneys now could cause even further delays, if the new defense needs time to get familiar with the case.

"There's a constitutional right to a speedy trial, but that doesn't mean that that can't be waived," Holloway explained. "If the defense has asked for a continuance or they've agreed to a prosecutor's request for a continuance, they might be deemed to have waived the issue. The whole point is to make sure that the trial is done right."

Duke's public defender has filed more than two dozen motions in the past several weeks.

Holloway said Duke's new attorneys have the choice to either keep each one as-is, modify them or even have them thrown them out.

There is a "Jackson-Denno" hearing scheduled for September 20 in Duke's case.

Holloway said this kind of hearing in Georgia deals with whether any statements, admissions or confessions made by the defendant to law enforcement were voluntary.

WALB does not know the content of any statements made to law enforcement by Duke after his arrest, but his public defender has filed to suppress those statements because his defense says they believe the statements were "not freely or voluntarily given."

According to Holloway, judges have to hold a "Jackson-Denno" hearing before a prosecutor can use a defendant's statement in a trial, whether the hearing be scheduled pre-trial or the hearing happens during the trial itself.

"If there's a confession or a statement that's incriminating, and there's not a request to exclude it, if it turns out that that is held against somebody in trial, and it turns out that it was a mistake to allow it to be used in evidence, it could be grounds for a reversal," Holloway said.

With Duke's case being continued, it will not go to trial at least until the court's next trial term following the October term, which may not happen until 2019.

Bo Dukes is also facing charges in connection to Grinstead's disappearance. He's charged with concealing a death, tampering with evidence, and hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal.

His case is still pending in Ben Hill County.

No word yet on when Dukes is expected to go to trial.

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