Jury Acquits Man Who Once Confessed in Teacher's Death

Ryan Duke, convicted on a lesser charge, now says a friend killed Tara Grinstead
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2022 12:22 PM CDT
Updated May 20, 2022 4:00 PM CDT
17 Years After Teacher Vanished, Former Student Heads to Trial
Ryan Alexander Duke appears during a court hearing in 2018 in Ocilla, Ga.   (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

(Newser) Update: A Georgia jury has acquitted Ryan Duke of murder charges in the 2005 killing of a high school teacher in her home, a crime he once confessed to. The defendant reversed his confession during the nine-day trial, Fox News reports, and accused his best friend instead. He said Bo Dukes woke him up during the night of Tara Grinstead's death and showed him the teacher's purse and wallet. "He said he killed Tara," Duke said. The jury did convict Duke of concealing a death; sentencing is scheduled for Monday. Our story from May 2 follows:

The 2005 disappearance of Georgia teacher Tara Grinstead triggered what Fox News calls "the largest case in the history of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation." Seventeen years later, a murder trial is finally beginning. Ryan Duke, 36, who graduated from Irwin County High School in rural Oscilla three years before the 11th-grade history teacher vanished in October 2005, is charged with killing the 30-year-old during a burglary at her home. Prosecutors allege that he entered through a window, climbed into bed with Grinstead, strangled her with his bare hands, then disposed of her body. Authorities, who found no sign of forced entry at the home, arrested Duke in 2017.

Since then, some have questioned whether investigators could have identified the suspect more quickly. In an interview with 48 Hours last year, John McCullough said he reached out to authorities in 2007 after his friend, Bo Dukes, told him a buddy had "accidentally strangled" the former Miss Georgia contestant, but investigators never followed up, per CBS News. Dukes later confessed to authorities that he helped Duke burn Grinstead's body until "it looked like it was all ash," per Fox. Only bone fragments were found at a pecan grove in 2017. Dukes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for helping conceal Grinstead's death in 2019, per WAGA.

GBI agents say Duke and Grinstead's DNA was found on a latex glove in her yard, per WAGA. At a pretrial hearing, an agent testified that Duke confessed to killing Grinstead after breaking into her home to steal money for drugs. However, Duke's attorneys say it was a false confession made under the influence of drugs, per WMAZ. He faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of charges including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and concealing a body. Jury selection began Monday and is expected to last a little over a week. The trial itself, previously delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to stretch on for at least a month. (Read more murder stories.)

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