The Georgia Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments Tuesday on a modified gag order imposed in the Tara Grinstead case.
Justices are convening at the University of Georgia law school in Athens, part of the court’s efforts to make the judicial efforts more accessible to the public, according to a news release from the court.
The Irwin County high school teacher and beauty queen disappeared from her Ocilla home 22 years ago.
On Feb. 23, the GBI announced the arrest of her accused killer Ryan Duke on the charge of murder during a burglary of her home. His high school friend Bo Dukes, who was arrested later, is accused of helping burn the body and bury it in a pecan orchard.
A few days after Duke’s arrest, Irwin Superior Court Judge Melanie B. Cross issued a gag order.
The order barred prosecution and defense lawyers, law enforcement officers, Grinstead’s relatives and those accused in her killing from talking publicly about the case. The judge also sealed all evidence until the case is decided and closed all pretrial hearings to the public.
The judge found that extensive media coverage could jeopardize rights of the defendants to a fair trial.
News outlets, including The Telegraph, challenged the gag order, saying that it was overly broad and restricted free speech.
A hearing was held, and Cross modified the gag order March 27 to allow access to court documents, to require a hearing before any closure of a court proceeding and to allow Grinstead’s family to comment publicly if desired.
However, the modified gag order still prohibits public comments made by anyone associated with the district attorney’s office, defense attorneys, court staff and current or former law enforcement officers who handled the case.
The judge said in her ruling that there was a media “feeding frenzy” upon the arrest of Duke.
Media outlets appealed the modified gag order, saying it still restricts free speech, while defense and prosecution attorneys argue it’s needed to the protect the rights of those accused to a fair trial.