The trial for Ryan Duke in the murder of Tara Grinstead began last Monday morning, with several new details into her death and disappearance being revealed in the last seven days. The most compelling testimony came from Ryan himself, claiming to have given a false confession to GBI investigators in 2017 and accusing Bo Dukes of admitting to being the killer.
The first week included opening arguments, followed by the state calling several witnesses over five days. Most of the state's witnesses were investigators involved in the case, with testimonies from experts and Grinstead's neighbors, friends, and family.
Both the state and defense began the trial with their opening statements, with the defense saying the case was "about power and influence," something they claimed Ryan did not have. They also argued the state's only evidence was a confession, which they said was false and caused by Ryan being under the influence of medication at the time.
The state showed the jury photos of a glove discovered in Grinstead's yard when she was reported missing, which contained Ryan's DNA. The prosecution also brought up Ryan's interview with investigators, saying Ryan's guilt was evident when he led detectives to the location where he confessed to burning her body and where human remains were also discovered.
The first witness of the day was Grinstead's father, Billy Grinstead, followed by many of Grinstead's friends, including Heath Dykes. Dykes admitted to having a relationship with Grinstead while he was married when she went missing, and after not hearing from Grinstead for some time, he went to her residence to check on her. He also testified that one of Grinstead's "biggest fears" was being "taken from her home," which the defense used as an argument into the possibility of there being people, including a former student, she was afraid of. Dykes was also asked if he saw a glove in her front yard when he went to Grinstead's home. According to his testimony, when Dykes arrived at Grinstead's residence, it was dark, but he did not see a glove or any sign of a crime. The state argued with it being dark at the time, the glove could have gone unnoticed by Dykes, with the defense bringing up the fact that Dykes was an officer and was thorough in his observations.
On the second day of the trial, a slew of investigators who worked the case testified on many aspects, showing pictures of Grinstead's home the day she was reported missing.
Ocilla Police Department Chief of Police Bill Barrs, the first law enforcement officer on the scene, took the stand and spoke on Grinstead's home's condition. Several other GBI investigators also testified on the state's behalf.
Bo Duke's uncle, Randy Hudson, took the stand on the third day, testifying to being the owner of the orchard Grinstead's body was burned. Hudson acknowledged seeing the burn site and assumed it was from a bonfire.
Another massive piece of the case was that a tip had been given to law enforcement just a month after Grinstead's death, suspecting Bo and Ryan to be Grinstead's killers. A report of the accusation was made by the GBI in 2005, but the GBI never followed through with investigating the claim. When the prosecution asked why there was never a follow-up done,
GBI agent Gary Rothwell testified that it was a question that has bothered him for years. While Rothwell said there was no excuse for what occurred, he took responsibility in assuming the Irwin County Police Department had looked into it and determined the tip was "unfounded."
On the fourth day of the trial, the jury watched and listened to parts of the confession Ryan gave to GBI officials in 2017, along with video footage of him leading investigators into the woods of the orchard he said Grinstead's remains were located. The confession included statements from Ryan where he said he broke into Grinstead's home in an attempt to steal money for drugs and was startled when Grinstead "snuck up on him." He claimed he reacted by hitting her once and running, leaving her home. In the interview, Ryan said he then went and got Bo to help him move Grinstead's body, and they burned her body at the orchard.
The lead GBI agent, Jason Shoudel, stated Ryan did not show signs of impairment during the interview and said Ryan told him he had taken one pain pill that morning but told him he was completely aware of what was going on. He also said Ryan told the investigators he was "mentally and physically cognitive."
On Friday, two of the state's key witnesses testified. One was the forensic biologist who tested the glove discovered in Grinstead's front yard and a forensic anthropologist who helped find Grinstead's remains.
The biologist, Ashley Hinkle, who works with the state's crime lab, tested the glove in June 2015 and found a 10% match to Grinstead, with a 90% match of an unknown male. In 2017, according to Hinkle, the DNA was swabbed again, with Ryan's DNA positively matching the DNA recovered from the latex glove.
The defense questioned the witness regarding the report's validity, stating the lab leader identified errors in the reports last month.
Dr. Ashley Gooding, an anthropologist brought in by the GBI in 2017, told the jury that human remains were discovered in the pecan orchard that Ryan took investigators to during their interview. Although a human finger, possible tooth, and cranium bones were found, the anthropologist confirmed the bones were too damaged and charred to verify the bones belonged to Grinstead officially.
The state wrapped up their case on Monday with another GBI agent, with the defense then calling their first witness of the trial, psychologist Dr. Christopher Tillitski. Dr. Tillitski examined Ryan in 2019 and discussed the results of a personality test, which showed him to be "agreeable" and an introvert with high anxiety. The doctor also said Ryan was sleep-deprived and severely drugged at the time of the confession.
Neighbors of Grinstead's were also called, with some supporting the defense's theory that Grinstead left her home on her own the night she went missing. Those witnesses claimed Grinstead's car was missing the day after she was allegedly killed.
On Tuesday, the man on trial for the murder of Tara Grinstead, Ryan Duke, was called to the stand by his defense team and gave detailed testimony about the murder he accused his former friend, Bo Dukes, of committing.
When Ryan first took the stand, he told the jury he and Bo Dukes had spent the day Grinstead was killed drinking tequila and beer. He claimed he eventually passed out "hugging a toilet" and woke up the next morning to Bo telling him he had killed Grinstead the night before. Ryan stated he initially didn't believe Bo's confession, saying he was known to make "dark jokes" sometimes.
Ryan testified that he believed Bo had more than likely just robbed Grinstead, and when Bo fell asleep, he took his truck keys and drove to a neighborhood he believed Grinstead lived in to return her belongings. After he couldn't locate Grinstead's home, Ryan claimed to go to a pay phone and call 411 so he could be transferred to Grinstead's home line. When Grinstead didn't pick up, he said he began to worry Bo's confession was truthful.
According to his own testimony, Ryan went back to the home and woke Bo up. When Ryan asked Bo what he had done, he said Bo took him to the pecan orchard and showed him Grinstead's deceased body.
"I wouldn't have known it was her if he hadn't told me," Ryan claimed.
According to Ryan, when he saw instead's body, she was wearing jogging pants and a t-shirt, and while he doesn't recall whether she was wearing shoes, he said it was possible.
Ryan said Bo then instructed him to get in his truck, and they went to a barn on the property to get wood.
"He started to put wood in the back of the truck, and I helped him. It was a full-size pick-up truck, and the truck's bed was full. I was in shock. It was like I was separated from myself," Ryan said. At this time, Ryan begins to get choked up, seeming to hold back tears.
Ryan continued, stating he got back in the truck, and Bo drove them back to Grinstead's body, telling him to "get out and come on." When Ryan's counsel asked how he felt at that moment, he responded, "I'm - I don't know. It was like I was watching myself. I was there, but I wasn't."
While Ryan claimed to have been crying and hysterical during the preparation of disposing Grinstead's body, he described Bo as "cheerful and excited."
Before Ryan assisted Bo in picking up Grinstead's body, he testified that Bo began to "push up her shirt and fondle her."
"I remember telling him to stop and how he looked at me. It was like I had never seen him before. He looked - I can't describe it; I don't have words to describe it."
Ryan admitted to grabbing Grinstead by her feet, with Bo holding her by her arms and placing her lifeless body on Bo's tailgate.
At this point, Ryan began to cry on the stand as he described Grinstead's body as being "beat up" with bruises on her arms and legs. "Like I said, I wouldn't have recognized her if he hadn't told me it was her," Ryan said.
As Ryan continued to cry, a person in the courtroom told DouglasNow the jury was listening "intently" and "appeared to be hanging on every word Ryan was saying."
Ryan and Bo, according to the testimony, then get back in the truck, where Bo "drives further down into the orchard where it ends, does a U-turn and backs into a clearing."
The defense asked Ryan how he felt, knowing what Bo was preparing to do to Grinstead's body. "I told Bo I couldn't be there and that he had to take me home, but he just started putting wood on top of her."
"What did he do next?" the defense asked.
"He lit her on fire," Ryan said.
While Ryan was helping assist in the crime, he testified that he began to cry, and Bo laughed at him.
With the glove containing Ryan's DNA being one of the state's main pieces of evidence, the defense asked Ryan if he or Bo ever wore gloves when they were preparing to dispose of her body.
Ryan testified that he didn't recall wearing gloves but did acknowledge he and his brother used similar gloves frequently at home to take the trash out. The waste, according to Ryan, was always placed in the back of Bo's truck to be taken to a "dump," which supported the defense's theory of Bo gaining planting a glove that Ryan had used in Grinstead's yard.
After Bo allegedly lit Grinstead's body on fire, he drove Ryan home and told him to never tell anyone about what they had just done. "He dropped me off and was spinning wheels when he left," Ryan claimed.
Ryan said he didn't see Bo for a week until he showed up at his home and asked if he was okay and if he had told anyone what they had done to Grinstead. Ryan stated he told Bo he hadn't told anyone, but he was not okay.
"Bo asked if he could stay with me, said he had no place to go. I didn't want him to stay, but told him he could," Ryan testified.
Over the next few months, Bo brought up Grinstead to Duke, as a "reminder" to Ryan to "never say anything," but saying no one would ever believe Ryan if he did, according to Ryan.
When asked why he continued to protect Bo and didn't confide in anyone about the murder, Ryan said he was "afraid of Bo and with Bo being capable of killing someone, that's enough of a reason to be scared of someone."
While Ryan was living with Bo, he didn't have a vehicle at the time and claimed he asked Bo to take him to the grocery store. On their way, Bo "began to drive toward the pecan orchard" and took him to see the remaining ashes, which Ryan compared to debris from a "small campfire."
During a party at the pecan orchard the following month, Bo allegedly made a statement to another individual and confessed to playing a part in killing Grinstead and disposing of her body.
According to Ryan's testimony, he was speaking to a friend at the party, Garland Lott, just "catching up" when Grinstead "somehow got brought up."
"I don't remember how she got mentioned, but when she did, Bo came up, put his arm around me, and said, 'Yeah, we killed her, and we burned her.'"
Bo's alleged confession to Lott at the bonfire was also the tip that the GBI never looked into in 2005.
The document addressed the tip that was never looked into in 2017, with Lott saying he "heard both Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke tell a group of friends at the bonfire that they had killed Tara Grinstead and burned her body." Lott told GBI agents Ryan and Bo were intoxicated at the time.
Following the bonfire night, Ryan said there were occasional conversations about Grinstead's murder with Bo, claiming Bo would "continuously tell him that he couldn't bring it up, but he was constantly doing that."
Ryan testified, "He followed the case on the news and would always be on the website. If I went to work and came back, he'd give updates when I got there," Ryan said.
While Grinstead was never Ryan's teacher in high school, she taught Bo. Throughout his friendship with Bo in school, Ryan recalled Bo "making suggestive comments about Grinstead before her death."
A few months after Grinstead was killed, Bo and Ryan moved into a home together in Valdosta. However, during their times as roommates Ryan claimed Bo never paid rent, helped financially, or cleaned, leaving Ryan to pay for everything.
Ryan also said while he no longer wanted a friendship with Bo, he didn't know how to "untangle" himself from him. "I was afraid of Bo and what he'd do. I wasn't spending time with my family or friends at the time, and rarely had friends over. There was only one time I can remember anyone coming over to our house," Ryan said.
On this occasion, three of Ryan and Bo's friends were at their home, hanging out and "possibly" drinking or smoking marijuana. As they were all hanging out in the living room, Ryan recalled a "weird tension in the room," and when they left, he asked Bo about his feeling. "I just remember it being strange. They all three sat in a love seat together, and I was sitting in the recliner. There was a couch, but no one was sitting on it. When they left, I asked Bo why it was so odd, and he said he told them I killed Tara Grinstead."
The testimony revealed that months later, Ryan lost his job after not being capable of passing a drug test, as he was heavily drinking and taking pills at the time. "I was taking anything I could get my hands on and was drinking every day in the spring and summer of 2006. I was doing drugs every day."
After losing his job, Ryan moved out of the home he shared with Bo and returned home, living with his grandmother in a mobile home.
Ryan stated he then drifted apart from Bo and didn't speak to him for a few years after moving out. During this time, Ryan claimed he smoked pot daily and took pain medication.
Bo entered into basic training, and when he finished, he stopped by Ryan's home. "I don't know why he came by that day, but he had drugs and wanted me to do cocaine with him. I didn't want to, so it was a fairly short visit."
While Bo and Ryan didn't discuss Grinstead's murder that day, he said Bo implied his home would "go up like wildfire," which Ryan said he took as a threat.
Ryan also accused Bo of being a "pyromaniac," saying Bo liked to light things on fire and would frequently watch YouTube videos of fires being set.
According to the testimony, Ryan's life began to "go further downhill" at this point. When Ryan was asked how Grinstead's murder and helping dispose of her body impacted him, he stated it "ruined" him, and he had and still has nightmares about her death.
Ryan then entered into, according to his testimony, a hole of depression and attempted to commit suicide on multiple occasions, with the first being in either the end of 2006 or early 2007.
A few years later, Ryan said he tried to kill himself for the second time by attempting to overdose on pain pills. "I couldn't keep a job and went into full renal failure and had a lot of kidney issues from all the drinking, drugs, and sleeping pills," Ryan testified. "I was drinking heavily, around a fifth of liquor a day and would drink until I passed out."
Ryan also said he combined drinking with consistent use of taking pills and smoking marijuana daily. He was eventually placed on dialysis due to his kidney failure, and although he would "do good at times" with not drinking when he was able to come off dialysis, he said he always started back.
A few months before his interview with GBI investigators in 2017, according to Ryan, he was "drinking heavily again, smoking pot daily, taking pain medicine, blood pressure medicine and other medication."
Ryan described the pain pills as his "morning coffee" and said they assisted him in dealing with the pain while also "being an upper."
The testimony was then centered around what Ryan claims now to have been a false confession. According to Ryan, GBI investigators came to his home the day before the interview. They asked him to come in for an interview the following day regarding an old case they were investigating.
After agents came to his home, Ryan said Bo reached out to him via Facebook, despite not being friends with him on the site at the time. "He told me the GBI had talked to him, and he knew they wanted to talk to me too. He told me to keep his name out of it," Ryan said. GBI officials orchestrated the message after they testified to asking Bo to contact Ryan to see if he would acknowledge Grinstead's murder.
During the actual interview, Ryan stated he took one pain pill that morning but changed that statement and told the jury he had taken morphine pills, a Percocet, "probably some Vicodin and smoked some weed."
Ryan said he knew he wasn't coming home after the interview when asked why he took the pills, so he "took what he had on him."
While Ryan said he had already decided to take the blame for Grinstead's murder because he "knew Bo would never tell the truth," he said he changed his mind sometime soon after.
"I changed my mind because a meeting had been set up with my father, and I couldn't lie to him," Ryan said.
During the defense's last questions, Ryan denied breaking into Grinstead's home, killing her or hurting her before her death. According to Ryan, the only truthful thing he said regarding Grinstead's death during his now-recanted confession was that he helped dispose of the body, but only out of fear.
"I did not murder Tara Grinstead; Bo Dukes told me he killed Tara Grinstead," Ryan closed.
During cross-examination, J.D. Hart questioned Ryan regarding his testimony of not knowing the location of Grinstead's home. Hart asked Ryan if he ever thought of looking at her license, which he said was in her purse, to locate her address. Ryan said at the time, he didn't think to look. He also testified that "to this day," he could not confirm Grinstead's actual address.
"You didn't think to take her wallet and purse to the Ocilla Police Department or the Ben Hill County Sheriff's Department?" Hart asked.
Duke admitted to not taking the purse or wallet to any law enforcement agency and returning home to confront Bo instead.
The glove discovered by law enforcement in Grinstead's front yard following her disappearance was a topic Hart focused on for some time, asking if Ryan knew if the glove found in Grinstead's yard was the same kind he had at his home. "I don't know what kind of glove was found, and I don't know what kind we had at my home. My brother would bring them home from work to use to take out the trash and change the cat litter. He was a germaphobe."
Ryan stated he also changed the cat litter and often used the gloves.
During cross, Hart brought up recorded jail phone calls Ryan had with a friend, later leaked to the public. On one of the phone calls, Ryan told his friend he was having a sexual relationship with Grinstead, which he now says was a lie and was "just telling him what he wanted to hear." The recordings also included other statements from Ryan, including a claim that Bo "tied Tara up to a tree at the orchard." Ryan testified to not recalling all the discussions he had with his friend but that those statements were untrue.
Hart also questioned Ryan's sincerity in his remorse for the Grinstead family, questioning how he could say he was "so upset" about her death but was "really concerned about 'fan girls' at the time." According to Hart, in one of Ryan's conversations with his friend, he brought up letters he received from "fan girls who were old enough to be his mom." Ryan also asked his friend to be his matchmaker but said it was a joke and didn't change that he felt guilt and remorse.
For the first time in the trial, the Up & Vanished podcast, which focused on the disappearance and death of Grinstead, was mentioned. Ryan's friend was featured on the podcast, and his attorney, Ashleigh Merchant. When asked if he knew they had been guests on the podcast, Ryan responded, "I haven't heard the podcast. I've been in jail, mam."
During the initial interview with GBI, Ryan told investigators he didn't choke Grinstead but struck her once. Ryan also told the investigators he never saw Grinstead without clothes on. Hart asked Ryan if he had concluded that he would take the fall for the murder, why not just admit to seeing her with her shirt pulled up when he spoke to investigators. Ryan said he didn't know and couldn't answer that.
"We can agree that you knew she was killed, helped move her body, and knew she had been burned in the orchard. You never told a soul, posted anything anonymously, never went to her family, or anything?" Hart asked.
Ryan admitted to not reporting the crime to law enforcement and acknowledging that he knew Grinstead's family was suffering and wanted answers and justice for her death. "That's something I think about every day," Ryan testified.
When Hart asked about his friendship with Bo, Ryan said he felt as though he was always a friend to Bo, but now realized it was a one-sided friendship and felt like he never knew "the real Bo."
The state questioned Ryan's argument that he left the military because he "couldn't handle violence" and asked about his statement regarding Bo's "dark sense of humor," accusing him of having the same trait. Several minutes of the cross-examination then focused on a letter Ryan had written to his friend discussing the ending of the popular television show Game of Thrones. In the letter, Ryan told his friend that if anyone told him the series finale plot, they would be "shanked."
Ryan somewhat laughed when he saw the letter, telling Hart the comment was a joke and not serious.
During the re-direct questioning from Ryan's defense team, he was asked if he was paying them for their representation. Ryan said he was not. He also said he only feels safe now because Bo is in prison.
"Have you told the truth during this testimony?" the defense asked.
"To the best of my ability, yes," Ryan answered.
Ryan continued, "I feel awful about not telling the truth. That is something I have to deal with and is a question I ask myself every day."
The state returned to the podium and finished Ryan's cross-examination by asking if he was aware he couldn't be prosecuted in Ben Hill county for the crimes he allegedly committed. Ryan said he was not aware, as his counsel had not told him, and he was only trying to tell the truth.
The man Ryan accused of murdering Grinstead took the stand, where he sat for less than two minutes after invoking his fifth amendment right not to testify, even refusing to answer his name.
The defense wrapped up the seventh day of the trial by calling several witnesses who testified on Ryan's character. Ryan's ex-girlfriend, Irwin County Tax Commissioner Lindsey McMahan, told the jury Ryan was "a good person, humble and kind" who had a "reputation for being peaceful and never caused any commotion or confrontation."
"He was never a violent person. If anything, he tried to stay away from violence," McMahan testified.
McMahan told the state during cross-examination that she didn't recall telling investigators she had seen "a change" in Ryan after he got out of the military but stated if it was in the report, she must have.
During Ryan's testimony, he told the jury about several suicide attempts he had made, and McMahan said she thought one of the attempts may have been caused by their breakup, which she claimed to have "felt bad about." She also said while she could attest to Ryan's character when they dated, she was no longer in communication with Ryan when Grinstead was killed and hadn't spoken to him since 2004.
Another friend of Ryan's also described him as "quiet, mild-tempered, and very peaceful."
The witness said Ryan kept to himself and never caused problems with anyone.
The last witness of the day, Kristen Davis, was another character witness, stating Ryan was a "good person" who she was friends with in high school. Davis told the jury she went and visited Ryan after his first suicide attempt, and he didn't "look like the Ryan" she remembered. Davis described Ryan as "very down and depressed" at the time, with a "change in his demeanor." She recalled sitting by a swimming pool with him at his mom's home and watching a TV show the day they spent time together. Davis also said she never felt threatened by Ryan during their friendship, and while she knew of Bo Dukes, she didn't know him well enough to testify to his reputation or character.
The trial went into recess around 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday and started back at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. DouglasNow has been told several witnesses are expected to testify throughout the day, with the possibility of closing arguments being held Thursday. DouglasNow will continue to post updates of the trial until the verdict is announced.
- GBI makes arrest in fatal shooting of Savion McRae
- Judge denies motion to re-sentence woman who attempted to have husband killed in 2016
- DPD arrests a second suspect in death of Rae Rae Barnes
- Duke indicted on additional charges in Grinstead murder
- Brandon Williams asking for new trial after 2016 murder conviction