Tara Grinstead case: Ryan Duke takes the stand, says Bo Dukes is the killer

Ryan Duke took the stand Tuesday in his murder trial in Irwin County. Duke is accused of killing Tara Grinstead in 2005.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

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Ryan Duke took the stand Tuesday in his murder trial in Irwin County. Duke is accused of killing Tara Grinstead in 2005.

Credit: Law & Crime Network

Dukes is also called the stand, but invokes his 5th Amendment right

Within seconds of taking a seat on the witness stand, Ryan Alexander Duke testified that he did not kill 30-year-old Tara Grinstead.

“Did you murder Tara Grinstead?” defense attorney Evan Gibbs asked.

“I did not,” Duke replied.

Duke took the stand in his own defense Tuesday as his murder trial continued in Irwin County. He also said he had never been in Grinstead’s home or hit her. But he admitted he saw Grinstead’s body and told the court he knew who killed her.

“Bo Dukes,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Judge Bill Reinhardt ruled that Dukes could be called to the witness stand. Prosecutors had filed a motion asking that Dukes not be allowed to testify.

Dukes, currently in prison, was also called to the stand Tuesday afternoon. But after declining to give his name and invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, he was dismissed.

“On the advice of counsel, I’ll be invoking my Fifth Amendment right not to testify today,” Dukes repeated three times.

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

“He said he killed Tara,” Duke testified.

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Tara Grinstead, 30, disappeared in October 2005 after spending the day helping younger girls prepare for a beauty pageant.

Tara Grinstead, 30, disappeared in October 2005 after spending the day helping younger girls prepare for a beauty pageant.

Combined ShapeCaption
Tara Grinstead, 30, disappeared in October 2005 after spending the day helping younger girls prepare for a beauty pageant.

Duke said he initially didn’t believe Dukes, who showed him Grinstead’s purse and wallet. Duke thought Dukes had just stolen her things.

In 2005, 30-year-old Grinstead was reported missing when she failed to show up to teach her Irwin County High School history classes. 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.

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Duke’s testimony Tuesday about what happened was drastically different than his confession.

During that confession, Duke said he broke into Grinstead’s house to steal money for drugs. When she caught him, Duke said he hit Grinstead. The blow killed her, he said.

Duke then led investigators to a pecan farm in a neighboring county, where he said he and his high school friend, Dukes, burned Grinstead’s body. Dukes, who isn’t related to Duke, was also charged in the case, but not with murder.

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, on his uncle’s property, according to evidence at his trial.

On Tuesday, Duke said he confessed to killing Grinstead because he didn’t think Dukes would tell the truth. He lied to the GBI, but testified that he couldn’t lie to his father.

Gibbs again asked Duke if he had hurt Grinstead, been in her home or killed her.

“No, sir, I did not,” Duke said.

After a lunch break, prosecutor J.D. Hart cross-examined Duke, questioning why he lied during his confession. Duke said he was scared because Dukes had already committed a murder.

“I was prepared to take the blame for something I did not do,” he said.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning.