The man accused of killing a South Georgia teacher and former beauty queen says he was at home asleep the night she went missing, according to new court documents.
Ryan Alexander Duke says he was in his single-wide trailer in Fitzgerald with his brother, Stephen, and both were asleep the night of Oct. 22, 2005 — the last day Tara Grinstead was seen alive. Duke’s friends at the time, Bo Dukes and Ben McMahan, were also in the trailer, according to Duke’s alibi filed in court. McMahan died in 2014.
“At some point during the evening hours of Oct. 22, 2005, and the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2005, both Ben McMahan and Bo Dukes left the home and only Mr. Duke and Stephen Duke remained home,” the documents state. “Stephen Duke was asleep in his room and Ryan Duke was asleep in another part of the home during this time period.”
But Duke’s latest account of that night differs drastically from what he told the GBI in February 2017. That’s when Duke said he’d broken into Grinstead’s Ocilla home hoping to find cash for drugs. And when Grinstead confronted him, he told investigators he punched her and killed her.
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Grinstead, 30, an Irwin County High School history teacher, was last seen alive at a party on Oct. 22, 2005. When she failed 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. In February 2017, a tipster contacted the GBI, and Duke was asked to meet with investigators.
Duke told the GBI that after he killed Grinstead, he and Dukes burned her body over several days on a Ben Hill County pecan farm, and he led investigators to the location of the fire. Within days of Duke’s arrest on a murder charge, Dukes was also arrested, charged with concealing a death.
In December, Duke’s attorneys said he was on drugs at the time of his confession. And though he was involved with covering up Grinstead’s death, he did not kill her.
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.
Instead, it was Dukes who killed Grinstead, according to Duke’s defense attorneys. Duke only helped burn Grinstead’s body, his attorneys said. Duke was denied bond.
Dukes will be the first to be tried in the case. His trial is set to begin Monday in Wilcox County. Two weeks after that, Duke is scheduled to go on trial on April 1 in Irwin. A judge denied his defense team’s motion for a delay.
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