On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed Ryan Alexander Duke’s trial for the alleged 2005 murder of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead to go forward. Anticipating Duke’s next day in court, WSB Radio’s Veronica Waters is taking an in-depth look back at his pre-trial appeal.
Prior to Monday, Duke's lawyers asked the state Supreme Court to decide that it has the authority to hear Duke's pre-trial appeal over being denied indigent defense funding--without the trial judge okaying the appeal first. His attorneys, who are working pro bono--meaning for free--said they needed money for expert witnesses and defense investigators.
>>LISTEN TO WATERS’ ON-AIR REPORTS WITH WSB LEGAL ANALYST PHIL HOLLOWAY BELOW.
Irwin County Judge Bill Reinhardt denied the defense lawyers efforts to get money from the public defender's office, while acknowledging that Duke had presented a compelling need for the experts. He did not give the certificate of immediate review Duke's team requested in March, so the Duke team asked the state's highest court to take the case without the judge's signing off on the interlocutory appeal.
Justices had tough questions for lawyers on both sides of the arguments.
"You say that if we don't review this now, this failure to fund experts will be reversible error on appeal. That may well be true. But if it's reversible error on appeal, how has Mr. Duke lost an important right by waiting for that appeal?" Justice Nels Peterson asked Duke attorney Evan Gibbs.
Justice Keith Blackwell told the State it seems to him they should want this issue decided pre-trial as well.
“I understand the desire to move on with the trial and in that sense a delay is bad,” Blackwell told prosecutor J. D. Hart, "but it strikes me from the State's perspective that what's even worse is if you were to get a conviction, the possibility you might have to try all this again at some point. It seems to me the issue on funding is a very murky one.”
He also called it "odd" that the State would decide that because a defendant is not exercising his right to appointed counsel that he must forfeit his right to get help with respect to experts.
"Seems odd that you would forfeit one constitutional right just to exercise another," said Blackwell.
Blackwell indicated to both attorneys that if justices decide they cannot step in, both sides should be willing to talk with the judge to resolve this themselves.
The Duke case had been set for trial in April. Justices agreed in late March to hear these arguments, which were made May 7.
Authorities arrested Ryan Alexander Duke in February 2017, more than a decade after Grinstead disappeared from her home. Another man with a similar name, Bo Dukes, was convicted in Wilcox County in March of helping conceal Grinstead's death by burning her body, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.