OCILLA, Ga. — As the second week of the Ryan Duke trial picked up Monday, defense attorneys questioned prosecution witnesses on whether there is any forensic evidence tying Duke to Tara Grinstead’s murder.
A forensic specialist testified DNA recovered from bone fragments at a pecan grove in Ben Hill County was inconclusive, meaning prosecutors could not confirm it was Grinstead's remains. The state then rested its case.
Shortly after, Duke’s defense team argued no evidence presented so far proved Grinstead died of a homicide, so attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked the judge to issue a directed verdict.
It would have meant immediate acquittal for Duke, bypassing the jury.
Merchant argued a glove found outside Grinstead's front yard did not tie Duke to her death. She also argued there’s no evidence Duke was ever in Tara Grinstead's home, she was murdered, or even that Grinstead died in Irwin County.
“Outside [of] Ryan’s statement, there's no evidence that he was ever inside her home. Outside of his statement, there's no evidence she was killed inside the house. Outside of his statement, there's no evidence the glove was present the day the murder was alleged to have happened,” said Merchant.
Judge Bill Reinhardt asked the lead prosecutor to lay out concrete evidence. J.D. Hart cited Duke's 2017 confession, the glove with his DNA, and a call from a pay phone the day Tara went missing.
She argued it all ties Duke to the murder, the burglary at Grinstead's house, and concealing her body.
“There's no other explanation on why that glove would have been there, other than the fact that he gave us... he was... he went back to his house to get this glove to bring it back to use to clean up. That's what he said and that's corroborated by the glove with his prints,” said Hart.
Judge Reinhardt overruled the motion for a directed verdict after a debate and said the case would proceed.
The defense then began its case and called a few witnesses up, including a false confession expert who assessed Ryan Duke in 2019.
See full testimony from Monday below: