AJC, Channel 2 appeal gag order in Tara Grinstead case

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News are challenging a sweeping gag order issued by a south Georgia judge in the case of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead's disappearance and murder.

Issued this week by Superior Court Judge Melanie Cross, of the Tifton Judicial Circuit, the order prohibits police, potential witnesses, court personnel and family members of both Grinstead and her alleged killer from making statements about the case.

In a legal petition filed Friday, lawyers for the AJC and Channel 2  said the order was entered without notice or a hearing and “sweeps far too broadly to comply with First Amendment rights.”

The AJC and Channel 2 asked the court to reconsider the order immediately.

A second man was arrested Friday in connection with Grinstead's death. Bo Dukes, 32, was charged with helping conceal the former beauty queen's body. Dukes was a classmate of Ryan Duke, who was charged last week with her murder. Authorities have been searching a pecan farm in Ben Hill County for Grinstead's remains.

Ryan Duke's lawyer had sought the gag order, arguing pre-trial publicity could harm the 33-year-old's ability to obtain a fair trial.

The legal petition filed Friday by attorneys Thomas Clyde and Lesli Gaither of the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton said the order is blocking access to official information in the high-profile case. It is being interpreted to mean, for instance, that the county clerk’s office cannot even provide access to court records.

“Given the nature of the allegations, it is undeniably, and unsurprisingly, a matter of great interest,” read the legal petition.