IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. — Prosecutors and defense lawyers once again went toe to toe over who should pay for legal experts in the nearly 14-year-old Tara Grinstead murder case.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas was the only Atlanta TV reporter in the courtroom as lawyers argued over money.
Judge Bill Reinhardt is still mulling over his decision, but no matter what he decides, the state Supreme Court will be asked to overrule him.
“How much is the government going to be called on to represent your law firm to represent this case? How far does it go?” Reinhardt asked Ryan Duke’s defense team.
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He rejected the team's request for state money earlier this year.
Ryan Duke is accused of murdering teacher Grinstead in 2005, then, with the help of his friend Bo Dukes, burning her body in a south Georgia field.
Both men were arrested in 2017. Police say Duke confessed but now he claims he was on drugs at the time and lied.
“The whole point of this is to ensure Ryan gets a fair trial,” said attorney Ashleigh Merchant.
John and Ashleigh Merchant are representing Duke for free but say they shouldn't also be saddled with the cost of expert witnesses to argue against Duke’s confession and DNA in the case.
Prosecutors say Duke had that all paid for when he had a public defender. Private lawyers they say, should equal private money.
“If they could not appropriately handle this case, they should have told the defendant before he decided to go with them,” prosecutor JD Hart said.
Thomas watched as Duke sat quietly on one side of the court during Friday’s arguments. Grinstead's parents were across the room.
Both realized whichever way the judge rules, the losing party will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
“They would rather have all this decided before trial,” Hart said.
Any chance for an actual trial in this case appears to be months away.