Tara Grinsted smiling, standing in front of cotton field

Jury Deliberates Whether Ryan Duke Killed Former Georgia Beauty Queen

A jury is deliberating the case of a middle Georgia man accused of killing a popular Irwin County High School history teacher in a botched robbery and burning her body in a pecan orchard.

Ryan Duke’s attorney argued that her client didn’t kill Tara Grinstead, 30, but instead it was another man, who has already been convicted of concealing her death, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Grinstead disappeared in 2005, as CrimeOnline previously reported. The former beauty queen’s body has not been found, but Bo Dukes, Duke’s partner in the botched robbery that led to her death, confessed that he helped his friend dispose of Grinstead’s body in a pecan orchard owned by his uncle.

Dukes, not related to Duke, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2019.

Duke’s attorneys say it is Bo Dukes who committed the murder.

“Ryan did not do this,” attorney Ashleigh Merchant said during her closing arguments, the AJC said. “He did not kill Tara Grinstead. He told you. The man who killed Tara Grinstead came in here and took the Fifth.”

Duke was charged with the murder after confessing in 2017. He told investigators he broke into Grinstead’s home to steal money for drugs and hit her when she caught him. He also gave a written statement and led detectives to the pecan orchard, where he told them he and Dukes “cremated” the body.

“He confesses through his words, his writings, his actions. He confesses through his DNA,” District Attorney Brad Rigby said during his closing argument. “He is the killer of Tara Grinstead. The monster that he wants to hide.”

“He thought so much of Tara, he burned her like household trash,” Rigby said.

The jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon and returned for more on Friday.

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[Featured image: Tara Grinstead/handout]