First trial begins in Tara Grinstead case

Bo Dukes (right) was arrested and charged in connection with the death of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead.



Bo Dukes (right) was arrested and charged in connection with the death of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead.

More than 13 years have passed since a South Georgia teacher and former beauty queen was seen alive. Monday afternoon, the trial began for one of two men accused in her death: Bo Dukes.

Tara Faye Grinstead disappeared on Oct. 22, 2005, after attending a cookout with friends. The 30-year-old was reported missing two days later when she didn’t show up to teach history at Irwin County High School. Despite a massive search — and billboards with Grinstead’s photo along I-75 — investigators admittedly had few clues to her whereabouts.

RELATED: Tara Grinstead murder suspect now says he was asleep

The case went cold until February 2017 when a tipster contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. A former student, Ryan Alexander Duke, admitted he’d killed Grinstead, according to the GBI. Duke was charged with her murder. Then, a few days later, a second suspect was arrested. Dukes, who wasn’t related to Duke but was a former friend, was accused of helping conceal Grinstead’s body and lying to investigators about his involvement.

Now, the two suspects have trials scheduled two weeks apart. Dukes, currently jailed on a separate case, is the first to stand trial. He was in a Wilcox County courtroom Monday during jury selection. A jury of eight women and seven men, including three alternates, was selected.

During opening statements, District Attorney Brad Rigby told jurors they will hear about “Bo’s secret” and his involvement with burning Grinstead’s body. Defense attorney John Fox said there is no evidence that Dukes withheld information. Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday morning.

Dukes was indicted on Aug. 28, 2017, by a Wilcox grand jury on two counts of making a false statement, one count of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and one count of concealing the death of another. He faces similar charges in Ben Hill County. Investigators believe that after Duke killed Grinstead, the two men burned her body for several days at a pecan farm.

Despite his prior confession, Duke now claims he did not kill Grinstead and says it was instead Dukes.

Defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant argued during a February bond hearing that prosecutors had little evidence that Duke killed Grinstead.

“All they’ve got is an inconsistent statement from someone who was under the influence of drugs,” Merchant said.

Duke’s trial, to be held in Irwin County, is scheduled for April 1.

Ryan Duke pled with a judge to release him on bond. He was arrested in 2017, 12 years after Tara Grinstead disappeared.