Ryan Alexander Duke, who is charged with murder in the Grinstead case, is escorted out after his motion hearings before Chief Judge of the Tifton Circuit Bill Reinhardt at Irwin County Courthouse in Ocilla on Nov. 26, 2018. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

NEW DEVELOPMENT: Georgia high court delays Tara Grinstead murder trial

The Georgia Supreme Court on Thursday halted the upcoming murder trial of Ryan Alexander Duke for the 2005 killing of a South Georgia beauty queen.

Duke had been scheduled to stand trial Monday in Irwin County. But the state high court granted a delay requested by Duke’s lawyers, who contend they were unconstitutionally denied funds for experts they need to testify on Duke’s behalf.

Tara Grinstead was reported missing in October 2005 when she failed to show up to teach history at Irwin County High School, and her disappearance made national headlines. No arrests were made until February 2017, when two former friends were linked to Grinstead’s death: Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes.

Dukes was recently convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for concealing Grinstead’s death. He and Duke two allegedly disposed of Grinstead’s body by burning it in a pecan farm.

In a two-page order filed Thursday, the Supreme Court said it would hear arguments on May 7, but not over the issue of funding for expert witnesses.

As is typically the case, defense lawyers can file pretrial appeals — called “interlocutory appeals” — to the Supreme Court only after getting permission to do so by the trial judge. In Duke’s case, Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt, who denied the defense team’s request for funding, also denied their request to appeal his decision before the trial began.

In its order, the Supreme Court said it will hear arguments on the single question of whether it has the discretion to entertain the substantive pretrial appeal on the funding issue absent the trial judge’s permission.

The unsigned order said the court voted 6-3 to hear the pretrial issue. Chief Justice Harold Melton and Justices Michael Boggs and John Ellington dissented, the order said.

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