The high-profile case of a man charged with murdering a south Georgia history teacher and beauty queen is likely to head to trial next summer.
Lawyers for Ryan Duke, who is accused of killing 31-year-old Tara Grinstead in a burglary at her home, asked a judge on Thursday for a continuance in the trial, and the judge granted it.
"They were shooting for a trial towards the end of the summer or early fall," says WSB legal analyst Phil Holloway. "But the district attorney apparently did not turn over the case file to the defense until November, and the defense has basically said, 'Look, Judge, given the magnitude of this discovery information, we just don't have enough time to properly prepare for trial.'"
Now, Duke is likely to go to trial next summer--in 2019, two years after his arrest.
"The GBI's case file here has been said to be the largest case file in the history of the state of Georgia in a criminal case," says Holloway, "and if the defense has only had access to that for six months, it stands to reason that they may need just a little bit more time."
Holloway says the continuance can help lawyers prepare; help with logistical issues in the four-county Tifton Judicial Circuit; or even give attorneys the option and time to see whether a plea deal can be explored.
"If the prosecution secures a conviction, they want the conviction to stand up on appeal--and if the judge had denied the defense's request for a continuance, it would create just one more issue for an appeal. Now, that's off the table," says Holloway.
Grinstead, a teacher at Irwin County High School, vanished in late October, 2005 and was reported missing when she didn't show up for work. She had last been seen the night she attended a weekend beauty pageant in which she had mentored some of the contestants.
Nearly a dozen years later, in February 2017, the GBI announced that a tip led them to arrest Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, for Grinstead's murder. Warrants said he used his hands to kill her inside her Ocilla home.
About two weeks after that, a friend and classmate of Duke, Bo Dukes, was arrested and accused of helping Duke remove Grinstead's body from her house. Dukes--no relation to Duke--is charged with several crimes, including evidence tampering and helping conceal a death.
Holloway knows the trial delay may feel frustrating for some, but a reversal because of an appellate issue that could have been avoided is worth the wait for everyone involved.
"While it's important that the families of victims have closure, it's also important that the criminal justice system is fair to all parties involved," he says. "It's much better to try this case once--and only once."