UPDATE: The Supreme Court of Georgia will take up the case of the challenged gag order on Oct. 24. Both the family and 11Alive have been fighting attempts to keep details of the case under wraps. See previous in-depth coverage below.
OCILLA, Ga. -- A judge ruled Friday to soften parts of a gag order that had been placed on law enforcement and witnesses in the case of missing teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead.
The Irwin County woman has been missing for more than a decade and no one had been held responsible for her disappearance until just recently. In February, Ryan Alexander Duke was charged with her murder. A second suspect, Bo Dukes, was later arrested and accused of assisting Duke with hiding Grinstead's body, which has still not been found.
BREAK IN THE CASE | What happened to Georgia beauty queen?
Judge Melanie Cross issued the gag order late February and brought information to a halt by restricting anyone close the case -- including investigators, lawyers and possible witnesses -- from talking to media outlets. According to the gag order, the judge cited concerns that defendants would not get a fair trial due to all of the media coverage.
In her arguments, Cross pointed to the small size of Oscilla, Ga. and numerous negative comments from media coverage from right after Duke's arrest and first appearance, which she argued was highly publicized.
A Mercer law professor told 11Alive's sister station 13WMAZ in Macon that it is not uncommon judges to issue gag orders in high profile cases like these, but noted that there are other ways to make sure a defendant has a fair trial. Several local television stations and newspapers appealed the gag order, pushing for documents to be unsealed. Lawyers for the media organizations argued that the order was too broad and unwarranted. They also said the judge has other tools to protect the defendant's rights.
After hearing arguments, the judge agreed to lessen the gag order, allowing witnesses and relatives close to the case to talk to media. Documents for the case have also been unsealed, however past and present law enforcement who have worked the case, the D.A.'s office, court staff and lawyers are still barred from speaking publicly.
MORE | Read the judge's ruling
Photos | Tara Grinstead missing 12 years