Ryan Duke not guilty of murder in death of Georgia teacher Tara Grinstead

Tara Grinstead, 30, disappeared in October 2005. She was a history teacher at Irwin County High School.

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Tara Grinstead, 30, disappeared in October 2005. She was a history teacher at Irwin County High School.

Ryan Alexander Duke told the GBI he killed an Irwin County teacher and helped burn her body. From the witness stand, he told a different story.

Did he kill Tara Faye Grinstead?

“I did not,” Duke replied.

Instead, it was his former best friend, Bo Dukes, who killed Grinstead, Duke said.

The jury believed what he said on the stand. On Friday, Duke was acquitted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary. He was found guilty of concealing a death.

With the verdict, many questions remain unanswered 16 years and seven months after Grinstead was last seen alive. Who killed her and why? Two men have now been convicted in the case, but neither of murder.

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Ryan Dukes (center) reacts as the verdict is read in Ocilla County.

Credit: Fox 5

Ryan Dukes (center) reacts as the verdict is read in Ocilla County.

Credit: Fox 5

Combined ShapeCaption
Ryan Dukes (center) reacts as the verdict is read in Ocilla County.

Credit: Fox 5

Credit: Fox 5

Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes allegedly bragged about their involvement in Grinstead’s death within weeks of her disappearance in October 2005. They claimed they had then burned her body on a pecan orchard owned by the Dukes family. Those boasts were reported to law enforcement. But as the case gained national attention, investigators were overwhelmed with tips. According to one retired GBI special agent, the tip was overlooked. For years, the case was cold.

In February 2017, a tipster came forward with more information. Her boyfriend at the time, Dukes, had been involved in Grinstead’s disappearance. Dukes pointed the finger at Duke.

ExploreWhat happened to Tara Grinstead?

One day after a GBI investigator knocked on his door, Duke arrived at the Ocilla Police Department. Within 90 seconds, he had confessed, according to the GBI. He also gave a written confession.

“I don’t feel like I deserve to be free to breathe,” Duke wrote in his confession.

Duke told the GBI he broke into Grinstead’s home for drug money. When she caught him, he struck her, he said during the confession. According to the GBI, Duke knew details about the case that had previously not been released to the public, including a call made to Grinstead’s home from a nearby payphone.

A week later, Dukes was also arrested and charged in the case.

Dukes, who isn’t related to Duke, initially claimed he didn’t know anything about the disappearance and death. Months later, Dukes confessed. He didn’t kill Grinstead but helped dispose of the body, according to evidence at his trial. In March 2019, Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for concealing Grinstead’s death.

For the past nine days, it was Duke on trial. He took the stand in his own defense, claiming he was scared of Dukes so he made the false confession. Dukes had killed Grinstead, but Duke admitted he helped burn her body.

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In February 2017, Ryan Duke gave a written confession to the GBI.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

In February 2017, Ryan Duke gave a written confession to the GBI.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Combined ShapeCaption
In February 2017, Ryan Duke gave a written confession to the GBI.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Credit: Law & Crime Network

In October 2005, Duke said Dukes woke him up in the bathroom of a trailer where they were living. Dukes looked panicked and pale.

“He said he killed Tara,” Duke testified.

But little evidence of a murder existed because Grinstead’s body was burned on two occasions, according to both Duke and Dukes. Bone and teeth fragments were located in the orchard woods, the GBI said. Burning left the remains in a condition that prevented forensic investigators from obtaining DNA.

Dukes, wearing a prison uniform and handcuffs, was also called to the stand. But he refused to testify, stating he was invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.

After eight days of testimony, closing arguments concluded Thursday morning. The jury deliberated Thursday afternoon and about two hours Friday morning before reaching a verdict.

Sentencing for Duke will be held Monday morning. The Grinstead family asked for additional time to prepare statements to be read in court.

Duke could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. He has already served just over five years since his arrest.


THE STORY SO FAR

October 2005: Tara Grinstead, a popular Irwin County teacher, disappears from her Ocilla home.

February 2017: The GBI announces that Ryan Alexander Duke has been arrested and charged with her killing.

March 2017: A second suspect, Bo Dukes, is arrested and charged with concealing Grinstead’s death. The same week, a judge signs a sweeping gag order. The gag order is softened weeks later after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets challenge it.

March 2018: The Georgia Supreme Court tosses out the gag order.

March 2019: Dukes is sentenced to 25 years for his role in hiding Grinstead’s body

May 2: Jury selection begins in Duke’s trial.

Friday: Jury acquits Duke of all charges except concealing a death.