GA v. Ryan Duke: Beauty Queen Murder Trial

Posted at 10:32 AM, April 18, 2022 and last updated 8:37 AM, May 9, 2022

By: Beth Hemphill

IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. (Court TV) — Ryan Alexander Duke, the man prosecutors say confessed to the 2005 killing of Tara Grinstead appeared in court Monday for what could be his last court appearance before his murder trial, five years after he was indicted.

Duke, now 36, has pleaded not guilty to his charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and concealing a death in connection with Grinstead’s death.

 

Duke and his lawyers appeared before Chief Judge Bill Reinhardt for a critical hearing concerning the sole piece of DNA evidence that prosecutors claim connects Duke to Grinstead’s disappearance – a single latex glove.

Duke’s defense questioned two GBI forensic scientists about DNA testing in the case. The purpose of the hearing was to give the defense the opportunity to collect new records from the witnesses — including three new reports generated after the witnesses discovered a miscalculation — and question the witnesses in preparation for trial.

The witnesses acknowledged a series of deviations from GBI standards and other questionable data points that the defense will likely use to undermine DNA evidence found on a latex glove outside Grinstead’s home, the sole piece of evidence that purportedly connects Duke to Grinstead’s disappearance.

This 2017 booking photo provided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation shows Ryan Duke, who is accused in the murder of missing teacher Tara Grinstead. (GBI)

Duke’s trial was on hold due to an ongoing funding dispute over who will pay for expert witnesses in DNA, false confessions, and psychology. His defense counsel, who took his case pro-Bono, argues the state must pay, since they plan to introduce the evidence. Without it, Duke’s attorneys say he will not have a fair trial.

Tift Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhard twice denied Duke’s request for money to pay for those experts. He also denied Duke’s claim to state funding, since Duke had already declined legal representation from public defenders in favor of his new counsel, who took his case for free.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defense, saying Duke’s attorneys could seek funding from state agencies to help foot the bill for expert witnesses, but they didn’t rule whether tax-payer funds could be used.

Grinstead, a former beauty queen and 11th grade history teacher, unexpectedly vanished in October 2005 from her home in Ocilla, Georgia, a small, rural town about two hours south of Atlanta.

Grinstead’s case went unsolved for more than a decade, until the ‘Up and Vanished’ podcast breathed life into the cold case, eventually leading to the arrest of two of her former students, Ryan Duke, and his former best friend Bo Dukes.

“Up and Vanished” podcast creator and host, Payne Lindsey, joins Court TV anchor Julie Grant on set for a special segment on GA v. Ryan Duke. (Court TV)

>>>PODCAST: Up and Vanished: Season 1<<<

Investigators believe Duke strangled Grinstead during a botched burglary at her home, then enlisted his buddy Bo Dukes to help him burn and conceal her body in a nearby pecan orchard.

In Feb 2017, Duke confessed “spontaneously and unsolicited” to investigators, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. A GBI agent testified at a pretrial hearing that Duke confessed to killing Grinstead after breaking into her home to steal money for drugs.

Shortly after Dukes’ arrest, investigators conducted a three-day search of the pecan orchard owned by Bo Dukes’ family in Ben Hill County. Bo Dukes is charged with attempting to conceal a death, hindering apprehension, and tampering with evidence.

Bo Dukes on the stand at Ryan Duke’s pre-trial hearing, where he invoked his fifth Amendment right to not testify for Ryan Duke’s murder trial. (Court TV)

“We moved her body to a wooded area with a bunch of wood and burned it over a span of like two days,” Bo Dukes said to investigators in a recorded video interview.

At Bo Dukes’ trial in 2019, GBI agents testified that human bones were discovered on Dukes’ family’s pecan orchard. Dukes was convicted in 2019 of helping conceal Grinstead’s death and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Ryan Duke claims he made a false confession in 2017, and is pleading not guilty to the murder of Tara Grinstead.

Jury selection is set to begin May 2, 2022.

 

Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV, contributed to this story. 

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