Tara Grinstead case: Jury hears Duke confess, says ‘we cremated her’

The jury viewed video Thursday of Ryan Duke writing his confession in February 2017 to killing Tara Grinstead.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

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The jury viewed video Thursday of Ryan Duke writing his confession in February 2017 to killing Tara Grinstead.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Ryan Alexander Duke said he had never had a conversation with Tara Grinstead. But she caught him breaking into her house, Duke told a GBI agent in February 2017.

“I used to break into people’s houses just to steal money. I was a drug addict,” Duke told GBI Agent Jason Shoudel.

Grinstead saw him going into her purse in October 2005, so he hit her, Duke said during the interview, which led to his arrest and murder charge.

“I can’t lie. I can’t live with myself. I’m so sick of this,” he said.

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Opening testimony in the trial of Ryan Dukes for the murder of Tara Grinstead began on Monday

Opening testimony in the trial of Ryan Dukes for the murder of Tara Grinstead began on Monday

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Opening testimony in the trial of Ryan Dukes for the murder of Tara Grinstead began on Monday

Jurors heard audio Thursday of Duke’s confession and saw a video of him putting some of his statements in writing as his murder trial continued. Duke is accused of killing 30-year-old Grinstead, who was reported missing when she failed to show up to teach her Irwin County High School history classes.

Grinstead’s disappearance made national headlines and prompted a massive search. She was never seen alive again. In 2017, the GBI focused on Duke, acting on a tip from his friend and high school classmate, Bo Dukes.

After questioning him for several hours, Duke was arrested and he confessed, according to the GBI investigators. He later changed his story and said he didn’t kill Grinstead, but was only involved in covering up her death. His defense attorneys now contend Duke feared for his safety and lied about his involvement and that he was coerced into his confession.

Prosecutors and investigators say Duke knew details about Grinstead’s death that weren’t public knowledge. During his interview with Shoudel, Duke said after he assaulted Grinstead, he tried to call her home from a nearby payphone.

After her death, Duke said Dukes helped him take her body to a pecan orchard in Fitzgerald, according to the audio played in court.

“We cremated her,” Duke told the GBI.

ExploreDespite confession, defense says no evidence Ryan Duke killed Tara Grinstead

Duke, wearing handcuffs, led investigators to the area, on property owned by Bo Dukes’ uncle, where the two burned Grinstead’s body, according to prosecutors. He was taken into custody the same day, Shoudel said.

Dukes, who isn’t related to Duke, was also charged in the case. In March 2019, Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for concealing Grinstead’s death. 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, according to evidence at his trial.

Shoudel remained on the witness stand throughout the day Thursday. During her cross-examination, defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked Shoudel about his training and whether he asked leading questions while talking to Duke.

Defense attorneys have said there is no physical evidence that Duke killed Grinstead.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Friday.