Jury Finds Man Not Guilty In Teacher’s Death More Than 16 Years Later

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On Friday, a jury found a man who was accused of killing a popular high school teacher who vanished from her Georgia hometown in 2005 not guilty of her murder.

Ryan Duke initially told the investigator he killed Tara Grinstead and helped burn her body, but when he took the witness stand during his trial, he insisted he was innocent. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the jury acquitted Duke of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and burglary but found him guilty of concealing a death.

Until Duke confesses in 2017, Grinstead’s disappearance in rural Irwin County remained a mystery for more than a decade.

Duke told Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents that he broke into Grinstead’s home in October 2005 hoping to find money to steal to buy drugs. He was startled when Grinstead appeared behind him and he hit and killed her, he said. 

He led investigators to a pecan orchard where he stated he and a friend, Bo Dukes, burned her body. GBI agents testified at trial that Duke knew things about the case that had never been made public.

Duke’s defense attorney, John Merchant, later told jurors it was Dukes who killed Grinstead. Dukes was convicted in 2019 of helping move the body but was never charged with murder.

When Duke testified his confession was false, he said Dukes woke him up at the mobile home where they lived together in 2005 and said he killed Grinstead and showed Duke the teacher’s purse and wallet. Duke stated his reason for lying to investigators was because Dukes had already killed one person and he was afraid, he testified. 

More than 16 years after Grinstead was last seen leaving an evening cookout in rural south Georgia, Duke’s murder trial opened. Grinstead, who was 30 at the time of her disappearance, taught history and was a former beauty queen.

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