IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. – The trial of Ryan Duke, the man accused of the 2005 murder of Tara Grinstead, will continue Wednesday morning with a third day of testimony.
The state is expected to show a video confession Duke made in 2017 on Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Duke detailed the abductions, murder and burning of Grinstead’s body.
Duke’s lawyers say he was not sober when he confessed and say he still claims he was innocent.
Grinstead, who taught history and was a former beauty queen, was just 30 when she disappeared. Before Duke’s confession. her family remained hopeful that she would be able to return home safely.
His body has never been found. Duke told investigators he and an accomplice took Grinstead’s body to a pecan orchard in a nearby county and burned it to ashes.
If convicted of murder, Duke faces an automatic life sentence. A court battle over funding for his legal defense and the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to lengthy trial delays.
Recap of the first day of the trial of Ryan Duke
State and defense teams presented their case to the jurors and began questioning witnesses.
The defense argued that the prosecution had no evidence linking Duke to the house that night and that Duke’s confession was made under the influence of drugs. The defense argued that the case was about power and influence, which their client lacks.
The state went through photos and evidence, including a glove found at home with Grinstead’s DNA and a man. Prosecutors said Duke took law enforcement to the pecan orchard where he confessed to burning and dumping Grinstead’s body.
The state’s witness called Grinstead’s 79-year-old father, Billy Grinstead, to the stand, who collapsed. Prosecutors called friends and acquaintances of the Georgia professor and beauty queen.
A witness, Heath Dykes, said he had a relationship with Grinstead during his marriage. He went looking for her the evening of her disappearance and triggered the search for the woman when he alerted the authorities the following day.
Recap of the second day of the trial of Ryan Duke
On Tuesday, the witness list focused on investigators who have worked on the case over the years.
While this may not be explosive ‘smoking gun’ testimony, it painted a picture of the scene where police officers were encountered during a welfare check at the home of the high school teacher 17 years ago, when she failed to show up to work on an individual. Monday in October 2005.
The morning began with testimony from Bill Barrs of the Ocilla Police Department, responsible for verifying Grinstead’s home.
Several agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also spoke. They exposed the evidence collected from Grinstead’s property right after he disappeared.
Another main target on Tuesday was the glove found just outside Grinstead’s house. The jurors heard the forensic analysis of this piece of evidence.
Jurors also heard voicemails left at the house.
Tara Grinstead missing person, death investigation
Tara Grinstead did not show up for work on October 24, 2005.
Colleagues at the school where she worked called the Ocilla Police Department to check on the Grade 11 teacher’s home.
Investigators said Grinstead’s car was in the driveway when police arrived at the home. The door was locked.
A search of Grinstead’s home revealed a few oddities: her mobile phone was still connected to a charger by the bedside table, her keys and purse were missing, and her bedside clock was on the floor and six hours late.
Tara Grinstead (Family photo) (Provided by family)
Police found her car seat in position for someone taller, and police said they found an envelope containing $100 cash on the dashboard.
There was a 34-hour gap between when anyone last saw her and when officers conducted that wellness check on Monday morning.
Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for help.
Years passed, and the GBI said Tara Grinstead’s case had never “gone cold”. However, the family eventually hired a private detective.
Who is Bo Dukes?
Bo Dukes told investigators that his friend, Ryan Duke, confessed that he accidentally killed Grinstead and needed his truck to transfer his body.
He admitted to helping his friend burn the body until “it looked like ash”.
In March 2019, Dukes was found guilty of helping cover up Grinstead’s death and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Who is Ryan Duke?
Ryan Duke stands trial for the Grinstead murder
Defense appeals have delayed Ryan Duke’s trial since the original start date of 2019.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified at a preliminary hearing that Duke “spontaneously and unsolicited” confessed to killing Grinstead after he broke into her home to steal money for drugs. GBI agents also said DNA matching Duke and Grinstead was found on a latex glove discovered in his yard.
Duke’s attorneys said he made a false confession while under the influence of drugs. They said in court documents that Duke was sleeping at home when Grinstead was killed.
If convicted of murder, Duke faces an automatic life sentence.
Who was Tara Grinstead?
Tara Faye Grinstead was the youngest child of Bill and Faye Grinstead, born in 1974. She and her older sister Anita grew up in the Georgian town of Hawkinsville.
The talented singer was named Miss Tifton and participated in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant.
Tara Grinstead poses with one of her pageant crowns. (Family photo) (Provided by family)
Grinstead graduated from Middle Georgia College and began teaching at Irwin County High School in Ocilla in 1998.
An Irwin County probate judge declared Grinstead dead in absentia in December 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.