IRWIN COUNTY, Ga (Court TV) — A judge in south Georgia handed down the maximum sentence of 10 years to Ryan Duke for his role in the disappearance of Tara Grinstead.
The investigation of the 30-year-old’s disappearance spanned more than a decade, consuming the small town of Ocilla in rumors and speculation, before police arrested friends and former Irwin High School students Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes in early 2017.
Prosecutors said new DNA evidence, new witness statements and confessions from both men led to charges in what’s been called one of the biggest cold case investigations in the history of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
Ryan Duke’s defense said the wrong man was standing trial for Grinstead’s murder. They said Ryan Duke’s old friend, Bo Dukes, is the real killer, and that Ryan gave a false confession out of fear of retribution from Bo. The defense also said none of the physical evidence proves Duke killed Grinstead or that Grinstead was killed in her home.
- Malice murder
- Felony murder (two counts)
- Aggravated assault
- Concealing a death
GA v Duke Day 11
May 23, 2022
SENTENCING OF RYAN DUKE
The judge sentences Ryan Duke to the maximum sentence of 10 years.
GA v Duke Day 10
May 20, 2022
The jury finds Ryan Duke not guilty of murder charges and guilty of one count of concealing the death of another. Sentencing is set for Monday, May 23.
JURY DELIBERATIONS: TWO MORE QUESTIONS
- The jurors want to see Bo Dukes’ Wilcox County indictment. Dukes was convicted as charged of lying to investigators about Grinstead’s death, which included concealing Ryan Dukes’ alleged confession to killing Grinstead. The indictment was admitted over defense objections. Judge Reinholdt decides to pass the indictment around the jury box so the jurors can review it — again, over defense objections. They wanted to redact the indictment before showing it to the jury because it contains testimonial hearsay statements by Bo Dukes about Ryan Dukes that the judge did not let the jury hear during the presentation of evidence in the trial.
- Another venue-related question: In an effort to assure we the jury have a correct understanding of the law as it relates to venue and applicable charges, would you agree the location of the crime as listed in the indictment has to be proven or disproved and plays a role in determining the verdict? The court decides to answer like so: The state must prove venue for each count of the indictment as charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Venue can be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence. The defense has no burden to disprove the venue.
GA v Duke Day 9
May 19, 2022
CLOSING ARGUMENTS BEGIN WITH THE DEFENSE
- John Merchant talks about the facts in the case
- Ashleigh Merchant focuses on the law
SPECIAL ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTPRNEY BRAD RIGBY DELIVERS CLOSING FOR THE STATE
JURY BEGINS DELIBERATIONS AFTER HEARING THE COURT’S INSTRUCTIONS ON THE LAW
GA v Duke Day 8
May 18, 2022
JUROR EXCUSED AFTER CLOSE OF EVIDENCE
After both sides rested, a deputy took the witness stand and said a juror told him that two other jurors were sleeping during testimony today. After questioning both jurors, Judge Reinholdt dismissed one of them – a Black man — who admitted to dozing off throughout the trial. Reinholdt let the other juror stay after she told the court that she could follow the proceedings.
The rest of the jurors were dismissed until 9 a.m. Thursday, when the attorneys will present closing arguments.
RYAN DUKE’S DEFENSE RESTS. STATE BEGINS CALLING REBUTTAL WITNESSES
Prosecutors called six witnesses in rapid succession to undermine pieces of the defendant’s account.
- “We killed her and burned her body”
Ocilla resident Garlan Lott recalled a party at Bo Dukes’ family’s orchard in 2005 where he said he spoke to Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke about Tara Grinstead. The two were in a truck and Lott said he heard one of them say, “we killed her and burned her.” He could not recall who said it, he added. On cross, Lott agreed with defense lawyer John Gibbs that Bo Dukes would have been more likely to say it given his reputation for “crazy, outlandish” comments.
- Was Tara Grinstead’s car outside her home the morning after she was last seen alive?
- Duke testified that he did not see Tara Grinstead’s car outside her home the morning of October 23, 2005, when he went to look for it after Bo Dukes said he killed Grinstead, although he testified on cross that he didn’t know where she lived. Three neighbors – Susan Luke, Bryson Boykin and Regina Boykin – testified that they saw Grinstead’s white sportscar in her driveway the afternoon of October 23. On cross, they testify that they can’t say if the car was there that morning.
Did Bo Dukes tell friends that Ryan Duke killed Tara Grinstead?
Ryan Duke recalled an instance on the stand of three friends visiting the trailer he shared with Bo Dukes sometime in 2006 or 2007. He said the three sat squeezed in a loveseat in the living room in a way that seemed odd to him. The defendant testified that when he asked Dukes why the friends were behaving “weird,” Dukes said he told the friends that Ryan Duke killed Tara Grinstead. The state called two of those people – Zane Deal and Clifton Benson – and both testified that did not recall visiting the pair’s trailer and that Bo Dukes never told them that Ryan Duke killed Tara Grinstead.
GA v Duke Day 7
May 17, 2022
RYAN DUKE TAKES THE STAND
BO DUKES BRIEFLY TAKES THE STAND
The defense calls Bo Dukes knowing he’s likely to invoke his right to not testify, and Dukes delivers on expectations. He pleads the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination from the moment he takes the stand, declining to even give his name.
PROSECUTOR TRIES TO CAST DOUBT ON RYAN DUKE’S NEW ACCOUNT
Special Assistant District Attorney JD Hart grills Duke on various points, including the drugs he said he took the morning of his police interview, his claim that he tried to return Grinstead’s purse to her home and his claim that he thinks about Grinstead and her family every day and regrets his failure to act sooner.
- Ryan Duke says he decided to take the blame for Tara Grinstead’s death because he “never thought Bo would tell the truth.”
- Defendant Ryan Duke takes the witness stand in his defense. Off the bat, he denies killing Tara Grinstead and says his friend Bo Duke killed her and got him to help dispose of her body.
- “Were you afraid he’d hurt you or your family if you told anyone?” lawyer John Gibbs asks the defendant. “I was.”
- “Is that why you never told anyone before February 2017?” Gibbs continues. “Yes,” Duke responds.
GA v Duke Day 6
May 16, 2022
THE DEFENSE GETS THE CASE
After calling two forensic witnesses, the prosecution rests. The defense begins calling witnesses, but not before defense attorney Ashleigh Merchants asks the judge for a directed verdict.
- A directed verdict is a ruling entered by a trial judge after determining that there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to reach a different conclusion, according to Cornell Law.
The judge denies a directed verdict and the defense begins its case-in-chief, calling a licensed psychologist from Macon, Ga, to speak about the Reid technique he believes was used during Ryan Duke’s interrogation and how it can elicit a false confession. Other witnesses included:
- Two men who lived across the street from Tara Grinstead in 2005, who both said they noticed Tara’s car was missing the Sunday after she went missing and returned under her carport later that same day. Tara was reported missing Monday morning.
- Ryan’s aunt and her significant other, who say they saw Ryan Duke passed out drunk the night Tara went missing and kicked out Bo Dukes and Ben McMahan, who is now deceased.
GA v. Duke Day 5
May 15, 2022
PROSECUTION FINISHES WITH FORENSICS
Testimony was limited to a half-day and consisted of two forensic experts for the state. Ashley Hinkle, a GBI Forensic Biologist. took up most of the morning discussing latent prints on the glove found outside Tara Grinstead’s home. Hinkle testifies there were three profiles on the glove – 10% of DNA from Grinstead, 90% of DNA from Duke and about 5% of a third profile was found when the glove was tested again in 2015.
Anthropologist Dr. Ashley Gooding also took the stand and testified that the GBI enlisted her in 2017 to help dig and identify possible human remains found in the pecan orchard Duke claimed to have burned and buried her body.
GA v Duke Day 4
May 12, 2022
JURY SEES POLICE INTERVIEW OF RYAN DUKE
Agent Jason Shoudel took the stand to testify about the details leading up to the arrest of Ryan Duke. The jury watched the recording of Duke’s police interview at the Ocilla police department about his involvement in the murder of Tara Grinstead. During his interview, Ryan claims responsibility for Grinstead’s death and “cremating” her body in the woods by Bo Dukes’ family’s pecan orchard. The jury also sees the video of Ryan leading police through the area where pieces of Grinstead’s remains were eventually uncovered. Duke claims the confession was false, and his defense team argues Shoudel asked leading questions, hoping to corroborate a story fed to the police and Ryan by Bo Dukes.
GA v Duke Day 3
May 11, 2022
RYAN DUKE’S POLICE INTERVIEW VIDEO – OUTSIDE THE PRESENCE OF THE JURY
The court reviews Ryan Duke’s redacted statement to police from 2017, when he allegedly confesses to the murder of Tara Grinstead.
LUNCH BREAK INTERRUPTED BY ATTORNEYS
The judge released the jury shortly after the lunch break to give both parties the chance to review a transcript of Ryan Duke’s police interview, where the defense claims Duke falsely confessed to the murder of Tara Grinstead. Line by line, the judge reviewed the record, ruling on how much of it would be muted during the playback.
LEAD ON TARA GRINSTEAD INVESTIGATION
Gary Rothwell, the lead investigator in charge of Tara’s case from 2005 until he retired in 2012, took the stand for most of the morning on Wednesday.
- Tara Grinstead was believed to be romantically involved with two men: Heath Dykes, who was married and worked for Perry Police Dept., and Anthony Vickers, a former student. Both cooperated and were cleared as suspects early on.
- Touch DNA science did not exist in 2005, when Tara went missing.
- Using DNA from Tara’s toothbrush, the GBI was able to determine two profiles of DNA on the glove found in Tara’s yard, her DNA and 1 unknown male.
- Her DNA on the glove was a “game changer,” and meant the glove was used to contact her body at some point and likely involved in her disappearance.
- The DNA (two profiles specifically) information was kept secret during the investigation to create what law enforcement calls “guilty knowledge.” This helps incriminate suspects privy to knowledge not widely released to the public.
- 200+ males were swabbed with some connection with the case, not random people – none of these matched the DNA on the glove
- The 411 call and Tara’s DNA on the glove were the two key pieces of guilty knowledge kept secret in this case.
- First time in GBI history to have national news coverage, and it hindered the investigation, according to Rothwell’s testimony.
- The guilty knowledge key evidence was not released until after Ryan Duke was arrested in 2017.
- GBI had two records of Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes prior to 2017. One was made by an outside agency and the other was a summary done by the GBI of the statement
- Multiple people have claimed responsibility to Tara’s murder, but no arrests had been made until Ryan Duke.
- Tara’s close friend, Maria Hewette, told the GBI that she believed a pair of New Balance sneakers and yoga pants were missing from Tara’s home.
- GBI concedes that it’s possible Tara left her home after returning from the cookout the night she went missing.
The day started with Bo Dukes’ Uncle, Randy Hudson, who spoke about fires his nephew burned on his pecan orchard. This is the same pecan orchard where Tara Grinstead’s remains were found in 2017.
- Jury sees images of burn piles on Fitzgerald farms.
- Says he never called in any favors for Bo Dukes
- Admitted to testifying in Bo Duke’s trial
GA v Duke day 2
May 10, 2022
FOCUS TURNS TO FORENSICS
Jurors heard from four current and former Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab specialists involved in the collection, examination and testing of the latex glove found in Tara Grinstead’s yard. Prosecutors say the glove implicates Ryan Duke in Grinstead’s death. Here are some highlights from their testimony:
- One latent palm print suitable for comparison was identified
- When tested in 2005, two DNA samples were found on the glove: One that matched Tara Grinstead’s profile and another belonging to an unknown male
- In 2005, the GBI didn’t have samples from Ryan Duke or Bo Dukes for comparison
- Heath Dykes was excluded as contributor to source of DNA on glove
- The presence of clothing fibers was detected on glove
- Glove appeared to be used because the pinkie and thumb were inverted
- The crime lab cut the glove into pieces so different departments could test it
JURY HEARS TARA GRINSTEAD’S VOICE
- Tara Grinstead’s voice filled the courtroom as prosecutors played the outgoing message on her landline as recorded from her answering machine in 2005: “Hello! If you leave a message, I’ll call you back. Thank you.”
The jury heard the recording during the testimony of Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Bill Bodrey, who collected evidence from Grinstead’s cordless phone. The jury heard all 30 voicemails on her answering machine on October 24, 2005, when Bodrey looked at the phone. Bodrey said calls from concerned friends came into Grinstead’s phone, even as Bodrey recorded the existing messages. He also made a list of all the phone numbers that appeared on her caller ID, including a mystery call from a pay phone the morning of October 23, 2005, that prosecutors claim was placed by defendant Ryan Duke.
JURY SEES PHOTOS OF TARA GRINSTEAD’S HOME
The second day of Ryan Duke’s murder trial began with the testimony of Bill Barrs, who was the sole detective on the Ocilla Police force in 2005 when he responded to Tara Grinsted’s home to investigate her whereabouts. He walked the jury through photos he took in and around the home, including:
- The front door, which showed no apparent signs of forced entry.
- Grinstead’s cordless phone, found in her bathroom.
- Her unmade bed.
Another witness, GBI Special Agent Jeff Roesler, showed the jury more photos of the scene. He also raised the first mention of latent prints that prosecutor JD Hart brought up in opening, saying he collected latent prints for testing from the inside of Grinstead’s front door. Another intriguing piece of evidence: a photo of a piece of pine straw found on the floor of Grinstead’s bedroom. Like Barrs, he said he saw no apparent signs of forced entry or struggle, but he did note a candle on its side and a crooked lampshade.
GA v Duke Day 1
May 09, 2022
TARA GRINSTEAD’S EX DESCRIBES WHAT HE SAW – AND DIDN’T SEE – WHILE SEARCHING HER HOME
Grinstead seemed “kind of down” and “sad” during their last phone call on the night she was last seen alive, said Heath Dykes, a married police captain who had an affair with Grinstead when she disappeared. When her family did not hear from her the next day, Dykes called her numerous times, and the jury heard voicemails of him pleading with her to call him back. At the request of Grinstead’s mother, Dykes said he went to Grinstead’s home around midnight to look for her. He saw her car in the driveway, but he did not see a latex glove that prosecutors claim contains Ryan Duke’s DNA. On cross, Dykes said Grinstead told him she was scared of Anthony Vickers, but Dykes said he didn’t know Grinstead had a sexual relationship with him.
COURT BREAKS FOR LUNCH AFTER JURY HEARS FROM FIRST FEW WITNESSES
Billy Grinstead: Tara Grinstead’s father described how his job brought his family to Ocilla and recalled the timing of his last conversation with his daughter before she disappeared.
Dana Wilder Giddens: Tara Grinstead invited Giddens and other teens to her home the day she was last seen alive to help them prepare for the Miss Sweet Potato pageant. Giddens walked the jury through photos of Grinstead’s home and points out items that were out of place, including clothing and furniture.
Rhett Roberts: A former Irwin County teacher who dated Grinstead, Rhett Roberts described a surprise visit from Grinstead the night of October 22, 2005, around 8:30 p.m. On cross, he said he was aware of an “incident” involving Grinstead and her ex-boyfriend, Anthony Vickers.
Jared Luke: Luke visited Grinstead’s home on Sunday, October 23, 2005, around 7:30 p.m. to pick up his dog’s water bowl. He said he parked behind her car in the driveway, but he did not see the latex glove in the yard that prosecutors said connects Ryan Duke to the crime.
BOTH SIDES DELIVER OPENING STATEMENTS
Assistant District Attorney JD Hart addresses the jury for 40 minutes: “Ryan Duke confessed to the murder of Tara Grinsted… the evidence will show he confessed to her murder over and over with his words, he confessed to her murder with his actions, he confessed to her murder with his DNA and with his prints.”
Defense lawyer Ashleigh Merchant addresses the jury for 20 minutes: “This case is about power and influence, the people who have it and the people who don’t have it. Ryan Duke has neither. Bo Dukes has both. What we do know is that Ryan Duke did not harm Tara Grinstead.
JURY HEARS FROM THE FIRST PEOPLE TO ENTER GRINSTEAD’S HOME AFTER SHE WENT MISSING
Court adjourned for the day after the jury heard from three people who went to Grinstead’s home searching for her when she didn’t show up for work Monday, October 23, 2005.:
Joe Poitier – Tara Grinstead’s neighbor Joe Poitier said she was like a daughter to him and his wife. They had a key to her home and Grinstead helped their granddaughter prepare for the sweet potato festival the last day she was seen alive. When Poitier learned that Grinstead did not show up for work, he let Grinstead’s coworker and the coworker’s husband into Grinstead’s home. Poitier was the person who pointed out the latex glove to Ocilla Police Capt. Billy Hancock when he arrived at the scene. On cross, Poiter testified there appeared no signs of forced entry at Grinstead’s home and that the front door was locked when he arrived.
Deena Harper Causey – The former Irwin High School teacher was among the first to raise concerns when Tara Grinstead didn’t show up for work and went to her home to investigate. Causey was also the stepmother of Marcus Harper, Grinstead’s ex-boyfriend, who broke up with her weeks before she disappeared. Causey described an instance when Grinsted called her from the side of a road “extremely upset and incoherent” over the breakup. Causey drove her home because Grinstead was in no condition to drive. “She felt like she had given it all she had… but it just didn’t work out.”
Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock – The veteran law enforcement expert collected the white latex glove. He said the attention overwhelmed his small department, prompting them to seek help from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He acknowledged that the departments received reports of a body being burned in a pecan orchard early on.
Emanuella Grinberg and Beth Hemphill, Court TV, contributed to this story.