Suspect Acquitted of Murdering Tara Grinstead, Ga. Teacher and Former Beauty Queen Killed in 2005

Ryan Duke recanted his 2017 confession during his trial, blaming a friend instead

Tara Grinstead
Tara Grinstead. Photo: Georgia Bureau of Investigation

Last Friday, a Georgia jury acquitted Ryan Duke of the 2005 killing of popular high school teacher Tara Grinstead — a crime he confessed to in 2017 within 90 seconds of walking into the Ocilla police station, only to recant the confession.

Online court records confirm that Duke, 36, was found not guilty of malice and felony murder. Duke was also found not guilty of aggravated assault and burglary. However, he was convicted of concealing a death.

In 2017, Duke was arrested in connection with the death of Grinstead, who had been a beauty pageant queen before becoming a teacher.

Grinstead, 30, was last seen alive leaving a dinner party on Oct. 22, 2005, when Duke, who had graduated from the same school where Grinstead taught history, was 21.

To this day, the location of Grinstead's body remains a mystery.

Grinstead was a former Miss Tifton who had competed in the Miss Georgia pageant three times.

Two days after she was last seen alive, police went to Grinstead's home in Ocilla. There, they found her car in the driveway, and her cell phone charging at a wall outlet. The clothes she'd worn to the dinner party before disappearing were still in a pile on the bedroom floor.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covered Duke's trial extensively, and reports that he recanted his previous confession when he took the witness stand, telling the court it was his friend — Bo Dukes — who committed the murder. (Duke and Dukes are not related.)

In March 2019, Dukes, 37, was convicted of helping conceal Grinstead's death. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Dukes told investigators in 2017 he helped Duke burn the body of a woman Duke had allegedly killed by accident on a pecan orchard.

Dukes was called to the stand during Duke's trial, but invoked his Fifth Amendment right, according to the Journal-Constitution.

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Duke's trial lasted nine days, the paper reports.

Prosecutors had noted that, in 2017, Duke also provided investigators with a written confession. He allegedly told police he had broken into Grinstead's home to steal money for drugs. When she caught him, he hit her, he told police at the time.

Investigators also had said Duke knew details about the case that hadn't been publicized, including a call made to Grinstead's home that evening from a nearby payphone.

Duke will be sentenced today, and faces 10 years for concealing a body. He would get credit for the five years he had already served.

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