ABBEVILLE, Ga. — Jury selection started Monday morning in Wilcox County Superior Court for the man accused of concealing Tara Grinstead's body over a decade ago.
Grinstead was the south Georgia beauty queen and teacher who went missing from her home in Ocilla in Irwin County in October 2005.
Dukes is charged with four counts in Wilcox County: two counts of making false statements, one count of hindering apprehension of a criminal and one count of concealing the death of another.
Dukes was present, in the courtroom when Judge Robert Chasteen, Jr. began weeding out the jurors just after 9:20 a.m., and they had about 100 to choose from.
By 3:50 p.m., they had chosen 12 jurors--five men and seven women. Three alternates were chosen as well, two men and one woman. From there, the court moved into opening statements.
Here's a live breakdown of what happened during jury selection, opening statements and the questioning of the first witness.
Upon asking if anyone was related to Dukes, a couple stood up and the wife said she was related. Both the husband and wife were dismissed.
District Attorney for the Cordele Circuit, Brad Rigby, began questioning potential jurors in groups of 12.
With the first group, Rigby asked if anyone knew Dukes or his relatives, like his mother, Dixie Hudson. At least three raised their hands. Rigby also asked if anyone knew Ryan Duke, the man accused of actually killing Grinstead, or his defense lawyers. The same was done for witnesses in the case.
Several potential jurors in the first group raised their hands when asked if they'd followed the case through social media or media outlets. At least one admitted to listening to two episodes of the podcast, Up and Vanished. The podcast has covered Grinstead's case in the past.
Rigby also asked if any of the potential jurors had participated in searches for Grinstead.
Defense attorney for Dukes, John Fox, began questioning the first group of potential jurors. He went through similar questions as Rigby, but moreso focused on if anyone had a law enforcement background or if anyone knew members in law enforcement or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
After a short 15 minute break, the second group of potential jurors were called to the box to be questioned, with Rigby starting.
One juror admitted to attending Irwin County High School in the '90s, the same high school Grinstead was a teacher at and the school Duke and Dukes attended.
While pretty much all of the potential jurors in this group knew or heard about the case through Facebook or news outlets, the majority said they would be able to stay impartial to the case. Only one person in the second group admitted they couldn't be impartial.
Fox began questioning the second group, asking about their past history with alcohol and drugs and their church backgrounds.
Two of the potential jurors in the second group admitted to going to church with other potential jurors in the room, and several admitted to having relatives who were teachers in local school systems.
The second group of jurors left the box around 11:35 a.m., with the third group being called up afterwards.
Rigby began questioning the third round of potential jurors. At least two said they knew Dukes' mom, and at least five knew about the case prior to Monday, through social media and news outlets.
Two admitted to listening to the Up and Vanished podcast in this group, with one having listened to around four episodes. Rigby specifically asked if those who listened to the podcast had heard Duke's defense attorney, Ashleigh Merchant on the podcast.
Rigby also asked if anyone had past employment with Ben Hill or Irwin Counties, or knew about the Hudson Pecan farm, where investigators searched for Grinstead's remains.
Randy Hudson, owner of Hudson Pecan Company, is Dukes' uncle.
Fox questioned the third group, asking about past military history and if any of the potential jurors knew others in the room.
Questioning of the third group ended around 12:10 p.m. The court plans to be back in session around 1:30 p.m., after a lunch break.
Questioning of the fourth group began after the lunch break, with a few of them saying they worked for the Wilcox County School District, and that they knew Dukes' mother.
Dukes sits attentively, listening to the potential jurors' answers and making notes for himself.
One juror in this fourth group said he worked for Hudson Pecan Company.
Questioning of the fourth group ended, and they called around thirteen potential jurors up to the stand to be questioned individually by prosecution, the defense and the judge.
Around 3 p.m. the court broke for a short recess. Judge Chasteen said they'll need about 15 minutes to discuss more.
At this point, they've questioned about 48 potential jurors during four group rounds.
The jury was selected just after 3:50 p.m. 12 jury members were selected, made up of five men and seven women.
There are also three alternates, two men and one woman.
After giving out instructions and reading off Dukes' charges to the jury, the judge said they're heading into opening statements.
Before opening statements, GBI Special Agent Jason Shoudel was called to the stand to determine if Dukes' previous statements to law enforcement were done voluntarily and could be accepted as evidence, without the jury present.
District Attorney Brad Rigby started asking Shoudel about a few meetings and interviews he had with Dukes about the case: one in June 2016 and two in February 2017.
Rigby brought forth evidence of Dukes signing to acknowledge his miranda rights to Shoudel, and Shoudel said it was indeed Dukes' initials on the papers.
OPENING STATEMENTS START - 5:02 p.m.
GBI Special Agent Logan Holland was also called to the stand and questioned, before the jury was invited back in for opening statements.
"It takes 1,200 degrees to burn human bones... and pecan wood burns really hot," Rigby said.
That's how the district attorney began his opening statements for the prosecution just after 5:10 p.m. From there, he began to describe Grinstead to the jury.
"A daughter, a sister, a teacher, a cheerleading coach, a pageant queen," Rigby said. She 'invested her life in others.'
He told to the jury how Duke and Dukes allegedly burned Grinstead's body in the pecan orchard Dukes' uncle owns. He mentioned how their alleged lies and cover-ups unraveled over the years to their close friends like Garland Lott and Dukes' former girlfriend, Brooke Sheridan.
But Rigby made sure to make one thing clear.
"We're not here to try Dukes for Tara's murder," Rigby said.
He went on to say the case was not about the murder, but about Dukes' lies, 'lies that lasted from 2005 to 2016.'
After Rigby outlined charges and details mentioned in Dukes' indictment, it was the defense attorney's turn to speak to the jury.
Fox started the defense's opening statements by thanking the jury for their patience after a long day.
He reminded the jury that 'opening statements are not evidence' and their job was to try and figure out what happened 'in an interview that lasted less than 15 minutes.'
Fox went on to make the distinction between the murder investigation and this case even more clear.
He told the jury 'it's going to take courage to ultimately deliberate' and to 'only pay attention to the evidence.'
After he finished, the first witness was called to the stand by the prosecution, Kim Sheridan.
Sheridan is the mother of Dukes' former girlfriend, Brooke Sheridan, but during questioning by Assistant District Attorney J.D. Hart, Kim revealed that her daughter and Dukes were currently dating.
Hart asked Kim about a meeting between Brooke, herself and her friends in January 2017. Kim went on to say Brooke told her at the meeting that Dukes had said he did help to conceal Grinstead's body.
Kim said Dukes had said he never asked Ryan Duke why he killed Grinstead, and that Brooke and Dukes' relationship was a topic of conflict within the family.
The defense asked Kim about Dukes' drinking habits, and Kim said she knew he drank, but he was never drunk in her presence.
Questioning for Kim wrapped up for the day, and Judge Chasteen recessed the court around 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. Tuesday.
During the proceedings, the prosecution made it clear to the judge while some of Grinstead's family members, including her step mother, were mentioned on the witness list, they were not going to be called as witnesses in the trial.
Stick with 13WMAZ for updates as the trial carries out in the next few days.