Bond denied for man accused of killing Tara Grinstead

Trial for murder suspect Ryan Duke will stay in Irwin County

After nearly two years behind bars, Ryan Alexander Duke wanted the chance to be free on bond, maybe even get a job to pay for his defense. But a judge denied that request Monday afternoon for Duke, accused of killing a South Georgia beauty queen and teacher.

Judge Bill Reinhardt also denied a motion to change the venue, meaning Duke will stand trial April 1 in Irwin County, just blocks away from where he allegedly killed Tara Grinstead in 2005.

Grinstead was reported missing in October 2005 when she failed to show up to teach history at Irwin County High School. Her disappearance made national headlines, but investigators have very few clues. No arrests were made until February 2017, when two former friends with similar names were linked to Grinstead’s death: Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes.

New details were released in the case during Monday’s hearing when witnesses, included Duke’s brother, testified. A latex glove found outside the home of a South Georgia beauty queen contained DNA belonging to both her and the man charged with her murder, a GBI agent testified Monday afternoon.

Jason Shoudel, a GBI special agent, also testified Monday that prior to his arrest, Duke confessed to killing Grinstead and led investigators to the spot where he said he and Dukes burned her body several times over a three-day period.

“He admitted he was the person responsible,” Shoudel told the courtroom.

But Duke’s attorneys said that he was under the influence of drugs and gave a false confession. Attorney Ashleigh Merchant argued that prosecutors had little evidence that Duke killed Grinstead.

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

Instead, it was Dukes who killed Grinstead, according to Duke’s defense attorneys. Duke only helped burn Grinstead’s body, his attorneys said.

But in a videotaped confession and a written statement to the GBI, Duke gave explicit details about his actions.

“Words are useless, but I’m burdened with the murder of Miss Grinstead,” Duke wrote in his confession, which was read in court.

Duke told the GBI he broke into Grinstead’s house to steal money to support his drug habit. But when Grinstead approached him, Duke said he struck her, killing her. Duke then left the home and later returned with a quilt and latex glove.

A glove was later found in Grinstead’s yard and sent to the GBI crime lab for fingerprint and DNA testing, Shoudel said. DNA from Grinstead and Duke was found on the glove, the agent said.

Duke’s attorneys contend he didn’t kill Grinstead, but only helped conceal her body.

“We’ve got the wrong person in custody judge, it’s the wrong person,” Merchant said.

The hearing is expected to continue Tuesday morning, when additional motions will be discussed.