Oral arguments on Grinstead case appeal planned for Tuesday

File photoSchoolteacher Tara Grinstead vanished in 2005; it was more than 11 years before two men were charged in her death.

ATLANTA — Oral arguments for a Georgia Supreme Court appeal in the case of slain Ocilla schoolteacher Tara Grinstead are scheduled for Tuesday.

Ryan Alexander Duke, who was charged with murder in the 2005 death, is appealing a lower court’s refusal to pay for an expert witness in his defense, according to a statement from the high court.

Duke’s trial has been delayed by a number of appeals which have reached the Georgia Supreme Court; the current one involves a dispute over whether he is entitled to have the state pay the cost of expert witnesses.

Duke was originally represented by a public defender, but later chose to be represented by three private lawyers working “pro bono,” meaning they were working for free. A trial court denied their request for state funding to pay for an investigator and expert witnesses, saying that while Duke “has a constitutional right to be represented by private, pro bono counsel if he so chooses, he is not simultaneously constitutionally entitled to experts and investigators funded by the State,” the statement said.

The Georgia Supreme Court had twice before refused to hear the appeal on technical grounds.

Grinstead, then age 30, was last seen about 11 p.m., Oct. 22, 2005. When she didn’t report to work the following Monday, friends and family grew concerned.

A search of her house turned up no clues. In fact, her house appeared undisturbed, according to then-Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock. Her car was parked in the driveway of her residence. Her house was locked and the only items that appeared to be missing were her purse and keys, according to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation statement.

Grinstead’s disappearance and the subsequent search garnered national media attention, with reports on CNN and Fox News. A reward totaling $25,000 was offered for information in the case.

In February 2017, Duke, a former student at Irwin County High School, was arrested and charged with her murder, the GBI said at the time.

The following March, another Irwin County High School graduate, Bo Dukes — not related to Ryan Duke — was arrested in Ben Hill County and charged with concealing a death, tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a criminal. Arrest warrants accused Dukes of destroying and hiding Grinstead’s body at Fitzgerald Farms in Ben Hill County

Bo Dukes was convicted in March 2019, and is serving a 25-year sentence in Central State Prison, according to prison records.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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