Judge hears arguments to lift gag order in Tara Grinstead case

An Irwin County judge on Thursday heard arguments on whether she should lift a gag order in the Tara Grinstead murder case.

OSCILLA, Ga. -- An Irwin County judge on Thursday heard arguments on whether she should lift a gag order in the Tara Grinstead murder case.

Judge Melanie Cross issued the gag order two weeks ago, ordering investigators, lawyers and possible witnesses not to comment publicly on the case.

Several media outlets have challenged that order, including 11Alive News and sister station 13WMAZ.

Lawyers for the media organizations on Thursday argued that the order was too broad and unwarranted. They also said the judge has other tools to protect the defendant's rights.

"All we know is that there has been press coverage, and as we know, that's is not enough" to justify the order, said S. Derek Bauer, who represented 13WMAZ and 11Alive in Atlanta.

Neither Cross nor Duke's defense team has shown that press coverage has been prejudicial or that remedies would not work, said Bauer.

Those remedies would include questioning jurors for possible prejudice, instructing jurors about disregarding media coverage, moving the trial out of Irwin County or bringing an outside jury panel.

Bauer also argued that not all publicity about the case is bad, saying that 11 years of coverage on Grinstead's disappearance helped lead to recent breaks in the case.

Ryan Duke's public defender, John Mobley, gave the judge a file of 79 articles since his arrest. He argued that media coverage has been "constant and pervasive."

"Helicopters, drones, websites, discussion boards, photographs. You name it, it's almost daily," he said.

He said he doubted that Duke can receive a fair trial in Irwin County.

"The horse is probably already out of the barn," he said.

Attorney Leslie Gaither, representing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB and the Associated Press, noted that a court clerk has cited the gag order in refusing to open court records in the case. Cross said she would order those records unsealed.

Cross said she would review briefs from the various lawyers and rule on the case within a week.

BREAK IN THE CASE | Arrest made in murder of Georgia beauty queen Tara Grinstead

PHOTOS | Tara Grinstead missing 12 years

Judge Cross wrote that publicity about the case may endanger defendant Ryan Duke's right to a fair trial, but some legal experts argue that's unnecessary and that the judge has other tools to protect the defendant.

Tara Grinstead's family has also opposed the gag order, saying after an 11-year-wait, they deserve more information on the case.

RELATED | Warrants reveal possible motive in death of Tara Grinstead

Duke is charged with killing Grinstead, an Irwin County High School teacher, in October 2005 and concealing her body. A second man, Bo Dukes, is charged with helping him dispose of the body.

PHOTOS | GBI holds news conference on Tara Grinstead case

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