Published February 12, 2019
A man charged with killing a high school teacher who vanished in 2005 from her rural Georgia home confessed more than a decade later to authorities, who found DNA from both the suspect and victim on a glove recovered at the crime scene, an investigator testified at a pretrial hearing.
Ryan Duke is scheduled to stand trial April 1 for the murder of Tara Grinstead, a history teacher and beauty pageant contestant whose disappearance has haunted rural Irwin County for more than 13 years. An investigator in the case revealed new details on the witness stand Monday as prosecutors sought to persuade a judge to deny the suspect's request for bond.
Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt not only refused to grant Duke bond, news outlets reported, but also denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Irwin County because of pretrial publicity. The county of about 9,500 people is located roughly 180 miles (290 kilometers) south of Atlanta.
Before his arrest in February 2017, Duke gave a written confession and revealed details of the crime in a videotaped interview with authorities, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Jason Shoudel testified.
Duke's confession, read in court, said: "Words are useless, but I'm burdened with the murder of Miss Grinstead."
Duke was a former student at the school where Grinstead taught history. Shoudel said the suspect told the GBI he broke into Grinstead's house to steal money for drugs, and when she confronted him he struck her with a fatal blow. The agent said Duke admitted to enlisting a friend to help him burn Grinstead's body in a pecan orchard.
Shoudel also revealed that investigators found a latex glove outside Grinstead's home. Tests on the glove found DNA from both Duke and Grinstead.
Duke's attorneys told the judge the confession was false and given while Duke was under the influence of drugs.
"All they've got is an inconsistent statement from someone who was under the influence of drugs," said defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant.
Shoudel said investigators asked Duke several times if anyone else was with him at Grinstead's home when she was killed.
"Each time he indicated he was by himself the entire time, nobody helped him," Shoudel said.
A second man arrested in the case, Bo Dukes, was a friend of Duke. He has been charged with concealing a death, tampering with evidence, and hindering the apprehension of a criminal.
But attorneys for Duke said it was actually Dukes who killed Grinstead, while the only role Duke played was helping to burn the body.
Ryan Duke's brother, Steven Duke, testified that his sibling was afraid of his co-defendant.
"He was scared of what Bo was capable of and he would take the fall or say that he did it to ... make sure that Bo didn't do anything to anybody," Steven Duke told the judge.
Bo Dukes, who had been freed on bond in the Grinstead case, was arrested again in January on charges of rape and false imprisonment. Police in Warner Robins said Dukes threatened two women with a gun and other violence and forced them to his home, where he raped them and held them against their will.