Ryan Duke gets 10 years for concealing Tara Grinstead’s death

Ryan Duke listens to members of Tara Grinstead's family speak before his sentencing Monday.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Ryan Duke listens to members of Tara Grinstead's family speak before his sentencing Monday.

The man convicted of concealing the death of Tara Grinstead was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

It was the maximum possible sentence for Ryan Alexander Duke, who was acquitted Friday of murdering Grinstead. He’s already served roughly half that time since his arrest.

Judge Bill Reinhardt told Duke he seemed remorseful for his actions when he took the stand in his own defense. Ashleigh Merchant, one of Duke’s defense attorneys, asked for him to be sentenced as a first offender and be released on the time already served in jail. Reinhardt denied that request, though Duke is already eligible for parole, having served just over five years.

“But you don’t know really what pain your actions cause until somebody reminds you that every day what they live with is, ‘They can’t find Tara,’” Reinhard said. “Every day, they couldn’t find Tara. And it is true that despite whatever your selfish feelings were for not coming forward, you had to the power to stop that pain for years.”

Prior to Duke’s sentencing, Grinstead’s family members and a childhood friend asked the court for the maximum sentence.

“They can’t find Tara.”

Anita Gattis, Grinstead’s sister, said those four words were the ones that destroyed her family’s lives in October 2005. That was when Grinstead, a former beauty pageant queen, failed to show up in Irwin County High School classroom.

Her disappearance launched a massive search and made national headlines, but Grinstead was never found.

Despite an extensive investigation, no arrests were made in the case until February 2017. Duke was charged with her murder after an hours-long interview with the GBI during which he confessed, according to investigators.

Anita Gattis, sister of Tara Grinstead, reads an impact statement Monday morning beforeo Ryan Duke's sentencing.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

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Credit: Law & Crime Network

“He confessed because he got caught,” Gattis told the court. “There is nothing sanctimonious about that.”

During his trial, Duke said his confession was a lie. He claimed he was under the influence of drugs at the time and was scared of his former best friend, Bo Dukes. Within days of Duke being arrested, Dukes was also charged in the case.

In March 2019, Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for concealing Grinstead’s death, two counts of making false statements, and hindering the apprehension of a suspect. Dukes 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, on his uncle’s property, according to evidence at his trial.

After Dukes killed her, according to Duke, the two burned her body in a pecan orchard owned by the Dukes family. Bone fragments were located in the area but were so heavily charred that scientists were unable to extract DNA samples.

“Tara lost her life,” Connie Grinstead, Grinstead’s stepmother, said. “And that left a hole in our life that can never be filled. We will feel the pain of this loss for as long as we live.”