IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. — The murder case involving one of two men accused in the 2005 murder of beauty queen and teacher Tara Grinstead is likely headed back to the Georgia Supreme Court.
According to prosecutors, after Ryan Duke killed Grinstead, he and Bo Dukes burned her body over the course of two days in a pecan orchard.
Bo Dukes has already been sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in disposing of Grinstead's body in his uncle's Ben Hill County pecan orchard.
GBI agents arrested Duke in 2017, but his case still has not gone to trial, due to a constant legal battle over funding.
Duke's pro-bono defense team has argued that the state should pay for investigators and that the lack of investigators and expert witnesses threatens Duke's right to a fair trial.
Irwin County Superior Court Judge William Reinhardt has previously denied the motion, saying that Duke had surrendered the right when he hired private defense attorneys as opposed to using court-appointed public defenders.
In May, Duke's lawyers asked the Georgia Supreme Court to settle the decision regarding funding.
In June, the high court said that they could not listen to arguments about who should pay for expert witnesses until the trial judge -- Reinhardt -- agreed.
On Friday, Duke sat with his attorneys, John and Ashleigh Merchant, in the Irwin County courtroom. Grinstead's father and stepmother sat nearby.
Once again, Duke's attorneys asked Reinhardt to order the state to pay for experts in order to help them prepare for Duke's trial. In addition, they said he has the right to "ancillary services."
This includes money to pay for a psychologist, a DNA analyst and an expert on false confessions.
Ashleigh Merchant said the GBI had a chance to investigate and prep witnesses, but she would like to pull background checks on all of the witnesses, saying this would cost the defense about $300.
Merchant also indicated the defense would need to fly in a key witness, Emily Dukes, Bo Dukes' current wife.
The defense said without proper funding, Duke's 14th Amendment right to due process is being violated.
Prosecutors argued that the defense's request for state funding is not necessary.
Prosecutor J.D. Hart said one of the experts the defense requested, a doctor, had already evaluated Duke.
"What we're talking about is spending taxpayer’s money,” Hart said. “They are asking for funding for something that’s already been done.”
Hart said the state’s responsibility to provide resources for Duke ended after he accepted the Merchants' offer to represent him for free.
At the end of the hearing, Merchant said pro-bono lawyers do not have a duty, nor the means to pay for expert investigators and witnesses.
“The court and state should do everything they can do to encourage pro-bono,” she said.
After about two and a half hours of arguments, both sides told Reinhardt that they'd like the Georgia Supreme Court to hear the funding arguments before the trial begins.
Hart told Reinhardt that the Grinstead family would also like to see the funding issue decided pre-trial.
The DA’s office says Reinhardt must sign a "certificate of immediate review" before the Georgia Supreme Court can hear the funding arguments.
There is no estimate on when a trial date will be set. The district attorney's office hopes the trial can start sometime in early 2020.
TARA GRINSTEAD MURDER TRIAL HEADLINES |