Duke claims he didn’t kill Grinstead, but was involved in cover-up

The man accused of killing a South Georgia teacher was on drugs when he confessed to the GBI, his attorneys said this week. Ryan Alexander Duke says he didn’t kill Tara Grinstead, but was involved in covering up her death, attorney Ashleigh Merchant told Channel 2 Action News.

“His statement will be that he was involved somewhat, but not that he was not involved in any of the crimes that he is charged with,” Merchant said.

Duke's latest explanation for his involvement in Grinstead's death is drastically different than what he told investigators the day of his February 2017 arrest. According to documents leaked last week that appear to be from the GBI's case file, Duke confessed to investigators. He offered his motive and an apology for Grinstead's killing, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week.

RELATED: Tara Grinstead's alleged killer confessed to GBI, case documents show

In that initial interview with investigators, Duke said he was a drug addict and needed money, so he broke into Grinstead’s house and planned to steal from her purse. But when she caught him, he either hit her or choked her and she died, the GBI documents state. Duke said he couldn’t remember how he had injured her.

Grinstead, 30, an Irwin County High School history teacher and a former beauty queen, was last seen alive at a party on Oct. 22, 2005. When she failed to to show up in her classroom two days later, a massive search was launched to find her, and it became a national news story. The reward for information grew, but no trace of Grinstead was found.

More than 11 years later, GBI investigators turned their attention to Duke. After questioning him for several hours — Duke was arrested.

"I'm sorry for the pain I've caused," Duke told GBI investigators the day of his arrest. According to a transcript of that interview, Duke said,  "I took her life, robbed her of a chance to get married and have children, growing old, and she didn't deserve that and there is nothing I can do to change it."

Several days later, a second man, Bo Dukes, was also charged in connection to the case. Dukes’ attorney could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

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. In June 2017, Dukes was indicted on charges including concealing a death, tampering with evidence, and hindering apprehension of a criminal.

Both Duke and Dukes have entered “not guilty” pleas.

While Duke was in jail, a friend of Duke recorded a phone conversation between the two.

During the conversation, Duke claimed he was on drugs when he made the confession, and that he only repeated information he’d heard.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I did something I didn't do,” Duke said during the jailhouse phone conversation with his friend, obtained by Channel 2. “I never hurt no one. I never put my hands on a woman in my entire life man. I never will.”

A judge has set a trial date of April 1 for Duke. But his defense team is seeking to have the trial moved out of Irwin County.