It would be impossible to find an impartial jury in the South Georgia county where Tara Grinstead disappeared 13 years ago, according to the attorney for the man accused of killing her.
That’s why the defense team is seeking to have Ryan Alexander Duke’s trial moved elsewhere. Duke, a former student of Grinstead’s, has been charged with her murder. The motion filed Friday states, “… a change of venue is required to ensure that Mr. Duke receives a fair trial in this matter.”
It’s among 33 motions in the Grinstead case filed in Irwin County Superior Court since August and will be discussed in a Nov. 26 hearing scheduled in Ocilla. It will be up to a judge to decide whether the trial should be moved.
“Most of the time, they have to attempt to get a jury in that jurisdiction first,” Chuck Boring, Cobb County assistant district attorney, said. Boring is not involved with the Grinstead case.
Grinstead, 30, an Irwin County High School teacher and former beauty queen, was last seen on Oct. 22, 2005, when she left a cookout and said she was going straight home. Two days later, she was reported missing when she didn’t show up to her classroom.
Despite a massive search to find Grinstead, along with extensive media coverage, she was not found and the case went cold for more than a decade. But in early 2017, the GBI announced two of Grinstead’s former students had been arrested in the case: Duke and Bo Dukes. Investigators believe Duke killed Grinstead and Dukes helped conceal her body by burning it.
In April 2017, a grand jury indicted Duke on six counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing the death of another. Then in June 2017, Dukes was indicted on charges including concealing a death, tampering with evidence, and hindering apprehension of a criminal. After Duke and Dukes were arrested, the GBI searched woods behind a pecan farm in the area, but the agency has not publicly said what was found.
In August, Duke’s public defender filed a motion requesting that most charges be dropped due to the statute of limitations having expired. Within weeks of Grinstead’s disappearance, Duke and Dukes told friends at a party they had killed her and burned her body, according to court documents.
“It is undisputed that Irwin County law enforcement knew of these crimes within months of the disappearance of Tara Grinstead,” a court motion states. “In fact, a search of the area where Ms. Grinstead’s body was allegedly burned was conducted…”
Later in August, Cobb County attorneys Ashleigh and John Merchant agreed to represent Duke free of charge. Ashleigh Merchant has served as a legal commentator on the AJC’s “Breakdown” podcast series discussing other legal cases.
In a separate motion, the Merchants are requesting up to $3,000 from Irwin County to be used to cover the costs of an investigator to sort through the GBI’s extensive case file.
“While undersigned counsel have worked incredibly diligently to review all of the case materials, they need assistance to investigate the amount of evidence and testimony in advance of and during trial,” the motion states.
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