Judge rules suspect in Tara Grinstead’s murder should be able to use state funds for defense

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that the man accused of murder in the 2005 death of south Georgia teacher Tara Grinstead should be able to use state funds for his defense.

Grinstead, a teacher at Irwin County High School, disappeared in October 2005 after attending an event in Ocilla. Her body has never been found.

Ryan Duke was charged with murder in the case in 2017. Duke’s friend Bo Dukes is also charged in the case.

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For years, the State Public Defenders Council and local authorities have refused to allow public monies to help pay for Duke’s defense, insisting since he had and then fired a public defender, he no longer had access to state funds.

In an 8-1 decision released Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the law allows the funding.

One justice wrote, “the Georgia Public Defender Council would be most unwise to decline to contract with duke’s counsel on remand.” and ”Duke may very well have a constitutional right to state-funded experts.”

The one justice who disagreed wrote the “state may, but is not required to, pursue a contractual relationship.”

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With the Supreme Court ruling, is the case moving closer to a trial?

Atlanta area attorney Phillip Holloway has followed the murder case closely, but not been involved in it directly.

“I expect the trial to happen but it probably won’t be for another year or so,” he told Channel 2′s Tony Thomas.

State prosecutors declined comment on the ruling, but had argued since Duke fired his public defender and went with private attorneys working for free that he should foot the bill himself.

“We asked the court for false witness experts, special DNA experts,” attorney Ashleigh Merchant. Merchant and her husband John have spent years representing Duke.

“Luckily we’ve already been working behind the scenes all these years to make sure there is no delay,” Merchant said.

“Still talking several months?” Thomas asked about the trial timeline.

“Several months. I think it’s unrealistic to think this could happen any sooner than several months,” she said.

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