GBI: Tara Grinstead murder suspect 'never on our radar screen'
The Georgia Supreme Court has lifted a gag order imposed in the Tara Grinstead murder case.
In its ruling Monday, Justice Keith R. Blackwell wrote: "A gag order like this one may be constitutionally permissible in exceptional circumstances, but the record here does not reveal circumstances sufficiently exceptional to warrant such a restraint."
Television stations WXIA, WMAZ and The Telegraph fought the gag order that was imposed after Ryan Alexander Duke was arrested in February 2017 and charged with Grinstead's murder.
Grinstead, an Irwin County High School teacher, disappeared from her Ocilla home in October 2005.
Tips led to Duke's arrest and confirmation that she had been killed.
J.T. Ricketson, the GBI special agent in charge of the Perry office that has been working the case since the former beauty queen vanished, said Monday's ruling will have no effect on him, as he has no plans to comment on any evidence or aspect of the case.
"Once the judicial system gets involved, ... we defer all inquiries to the district attorney," Ricketson said Monday.
The trial judge entered a gag order after Duke's attorney asked that the court bar trial participants from commenting on the case.
The judge prohibited many people from speaking about the case, including all law enforcement involved, the defendant and his family and attorney, potential witnesses and Grinstead's family members.
Grinstead's sister, Anita Gattis, also fought the order.
Lawyers for the news outlets argued that the order hindered newsgathering, was unconstitutional and was too broad in its scope.
Last March, the court issued a modified order that released family members from the first order, but it kept a gag order in place for the district attorney and court personnel, law enforcement, attorneys in the case, co-defendant Bo Dukes and his attorneys.
Dukes is accused of helping Duke dispose of Grinstead's body, lying to the GBI and hindering the probe into the beloved educator's disappearance.
After the modified order, the television stations asked the court to reconsider, but no action was taken.
WXIA and WMAZ appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Monday's 25-page opinion explained the difficult issues involved in determining whether a gag order was proper.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never decided a case exactly like this one, the court stated.
"Even under the most deferential standard, the evidence of record and findings of the Superior Court cannot sustain the modified gag order," Blackwell wrote.
The justices could not find any reports attributing inflammatory statements to sources covered by the modified gag order.