news 1 week ago

Pretrial appeal further slows Georgia missing teacher case

The Associated Press — By RUSS BYNUM - Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Georgia's highest court has granted a pretrial appeal to a man charged with the 2005 slaying of a high school teacher whose disappearance remained a mystery for more than a decade.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued an order Thursday saying it will hear Ryan Duke's appeal for state funding to pay for expert defense witnesses.

Duke had been scheduled to stand trial last April for the murder of teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead in Irwin County. An ongoing dispute over whether the state must pay for portions of Duke's defense has delayed the case for months.

Duke's attorneys say he has no money to pay for expert witnesses in DNA, false confessions and psychology. They argue he won't get a fair trial without them.

Tift Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt has twice denied the request, ruling Duke gave up any claim to state funding when he declined legal representation from public defenders in favor of private attorneys who took his case for free.

The state Supreme Court said in the one-page order granting Duke's appeal that justices are “particularly concerned” with the funding issue. The court did not immediately set a date to hear the appeal.

Duke sought a similar pretrial appeal last year. The Supreme Court declined to hear it, ruling last June it had no authority without the trial judge's consent. Reinhardt signed an order Jan. 13 granting his permission.

Grinstead was 30 in October 2005 when she disappeared from her home in Ocilla, about 185 miles (about 300 kilometers) south of Atlanta. A billboard with her photo and a tip line number loomed for years in the area, and hope remained that she would be found alive.

Her death was confirmed when Duke and another man were arrested in February 2017.

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified at a pretrial hearing that Duke confessed to killing Grinstead after breaking into her home to steal money for drugs. GBI agents have also said DNA matching both Duke and Grinstead was found on a latex glove discovered in her yard.

Duke's attorneys have said he made a false confession under the influence of drugs. They said in court filings that Duke was asleep at home when Grinstead was killed.

Duke's former best friend and co-defendant, Bo Dukes, was convicted in March of helping conceal Grinstead's death and was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison. He told authorities he helped Duke burn her body in a rural pecan orchard.