Why Tara Grinstead’s Alleged Murderer Still Hasn’t Been Tried in Her Death

Ryan Alexander Duke's mugshot after his arrest for Tara Grinstead's murder

Investigation Discovery Ryan Alexander Duke's mugshot after his arrest for Tara Grinstead's murder

Tara Grinstead was a former pageant queen and local Ocilla, Georgia, high school history teacher who disappeared in October 2005. In 2017, two men were charged in her disappearance, Ryan Alexander Duke and Bo Dukes (no relation). Ahead of the Dateline: NBC episode about Grinstead’s murder, here’s what you need to know about where the two suspects are today.

Ryan Duke’s Trial Is Still Ongoing

In February 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Ryan Alexander Duke for Grinstead’s murder. His DNA matched the DNA found on a glove that was outside Grinstead’s home when she disappeared, according to WMAZ 13. He was also charged with aggravated assault and burglary. According to WXIA 11, Duke broke into Grinstead’s home and climbed into bed with her, then strangled her to death. Duke was a former student at the high school where Grinstead taught.

Over the course of the investigation, Duke confessed to taking his friend Bo Dukes’ pickup truck and using it to transport Grinstead’s body to the Dukes’ family pecan orchard. Duke later showed Dukes the body and they spent two days burning Grinstead’s remains, which is why she was never found, though some small bone fragments were eventually unearthed at the pecan orchard. According to Atlanta’s 11 Alive, forensic anthropologist Dr. Alice Gooding testified at Dukes’ trial that burned fragments of human bones were found at the orchard in February 2017. The bones included fragments from the hand, skull, and spine, plus a tooth was also found. Gooding testified that she could tell the bones had been burned because of their weight and bluish-grey color.

However, Duke has yet to go to trial because there has been an ongoing dispute between the prosecution and Duke’s lawyers, married attorneys John and Ashleigh Merchant.

According to WMAZ 13, Duke’s attorneys think the state should provide funding for expert witnesses and investigators even though Duke has private attorneys who took on his case pro bono. The trial judge, Judge Bill Reinhardt, disagreed, denying the petition because Duke had private attorneys and not a court-appointed public defender.

“Just because he has pro bono lawyers does not mean that he isn’t entitled to funds for expert witnesses. The state has experts and we’re entitled to those as well. And so the issue has been, who pays for that,” said Merchant in 2019.

But in June 2019, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to hear the arguments about whether the state should pay for expert witnesses and investigators until trial Judge Reinhardt agreed to let them hear the arguments. Reinhardt eventually agreed, but as of February 2020, no hearing date had been set. In recent months, many courts nationwide have been delayed and backed up due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

So Duke is still in custody, awaiting an initial trial. Between the fact that the Georgia Supreme Court still needs to hear procedural arguments and the fact that the quarantine is delaying court systems all over the country, it could be years before he goes to trial for Grinstead’s murder. In the years since his arrest, Duke has also changed his story about his confession, claiming that it was a false confession made under the influence of drugs and that it was actually his friend Bo Dukes who killed Grinstead.

Bo Dukes Was Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison in 2019

In March 2019, Bo Dukes was convicted of two counts of making false statements, hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, and concealing a death. He received the maximum sentence of 25 years.

During the sentencing, Dukes read a prepared statement apologizing to Grinstead’s family.

“To the Tara Grinstead family, I’m truly sorry. Your long suffering has been unimaginable. I failed Tara Grinstead, I failed her family, I failed the local community. And I hope these proceedings have given some closure to the many people hurt by my actions,” said Dukes at the time, according to WTOC.

In April 2019, Dukes was booked into the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Butts County, Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and that is where Dukes remains today.

Dateline typically airs Fridays and Saturdays on NBC, with special episodes airing during the week occasionally.

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