Breaking News
More () »

Tara Grinstead case: Who is Ryan Duke?

For over a decade, Central Georgia has followed and heard about the Tara Grinstead case and the man accused of killing her

IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. — For more than a decade, we've heard about the Tara Grinstead case and the two men connected to it.

Grinstead was the south Georgia teacher and beauty queen who vanished from her home in Ocilla in Irwin County back in October 2005. 

One of the men, Ryan Duke, who's accused of killing Grinstead, is set to have a hearing Friday that will put the case back into motion.

RELATED: Tara Grinstead murder case due back in court Friday

Arrests in the case weren't made until February 2017, including Duke's. Here's a full timeline of what's happened since then.

FEB. 23, 2017: Arrest made in death, disappearance of Tara Grinstead

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced then 33-year-old Ryan Duke was arrested and charged with murder more than a decade after Grinstead went missing. The bureau described him as someone who 'never came up on [their] radar.' At this point, Grinstead's body hadn't been recovered yet. Bo Dukes, the man accused of helping to dispose of Grinstead's body, would be arrested in March of the same year and charged with three charges in Ben Hill County.

FEB. 28, 2017: GBI, other agencies searching for Grinstead's remains at Fitzgerald pecan orchard

A few days later, more than 40 people started searching the Hudson Pecan Company pecan orchard in Fitzgerald for Grinstead's remains. Judge Melanie Cross also issued a gag order, preventing law enforcement and those involved in the case from speaking to the media. It would later be revealed human bone fragments were found at the orchard.

FEB. 28, 2017: Ocilla police report details Grinstead suspect's 2010 DUI arrest

It came to light Duke faced previous charges for a DUI in 2010. He was released on bond, but the police report says his mother asked police to take him back to jail. 

MARCH 24, 2017: Judge scales back gag order in Tara Grinstead case

Judge Cross heard arguments against the gag order from several media companies, including WMAZ, who were saying the order was too broad and unnecessary. As a result, Cross let investigators and lawyers in the case comment on the court process, but not on possible evidence, pleas or confessions. The order didn't restrict the media from reporting on the case or block access to public records. Cross also backed off on her earlier order that said all hearings in the case would be held behind closed doors.

APRIL 12, 2017: Grand jury indicts Ryan Duke on six charges in Tara Grinstead's death

A little over a month after his arrest, an Irwin County grand jury indicted Duke on six charges: one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealing the death of another. 

MAY 4, 2017: Not-guilty plea entered for Tara Grinstead murder suspect Ryan Duke

Duke was not present when his then-defense lawyer, John Mobley, entered his not-guilty plea before Judge Cross. Several friends of Grinstead sat in on the hearing, and Anita Gattis, Grinstead's sister, gave 13WMAZ a statement

OCT. 24, 2017: Georgia Supreme Court hears arguments over gag order in Grinstead case

13WMAZ and our Atlanta sister station, WXIA, along with other news outlets went to court again to fight the gag order in the case. They stood in front of nine Georgia Supreme Court justices, saying the order impeded on news outlets' first amendment rights. Grinstead's sister even supported the removal of the order. However, public defender for Duke said the coverage could prevent Duke's right to a fair trial. It would be several months until we heard back from the court.

MARCH 5, 2018: Gag order in the Tara Grinstead murder case thrown out

Almost five months after the hearing, the Georgia Supreme Court finally threw out the gag order, originally enacted by Judge Cross. The order was in place for over a year. Duke's defense lawyers tried to appeal the ruling to reinstate the order a few days later, but the court ultimately rejected the appeal and upheld their opinion.

NOV. 5, 2018: Accused Tara Grinstead killer Ryan Duke to appear in court this month

After Duke's public defenders filed 26 new motions in his case, he hired a new team of lawyers out of Atlanta -- Ashleigh and John Merchant. They took on his case free of charge. The motions included things like a request to prohibit Duke from being seen in jail clothing or shackles, disqualifying jurors who knew Grinstead, and dismissing the indictment altogether. 

NOV. 13, 2018: Accused Grinstead killer asks for private investigator to help defense

More motions were passed by Duke's lawyers, including asking for the trial to be moved out of Irwin County to a new venue and for a private investigator to help with Duke's defense. The motions were denied at the end of November, except the motion for change of venue, which was denied in December of the same year.

NOV. 26, 2018: Trial of accused Tara Grinstead killer set for April

Duke appeared in court for the first time since February 2017. At this point, around 33 motions were filed for Duke, but his lawyers withdrew about a dozen. Irwin County Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt set the trial date for April 1, and asked the attorneys involved to create a questionnaire for people in Irwin County to fill out, to see if a qualified jury could be selected.

DEC. 10, 2018: ‘I was a coward:’ Accused Grinstead killer’s alleged confession describes what happened

An 11-page confession showed up on the Up and Vanished podcast discussion page. The GBI could not confirm if the documents came from the case file, but it seemed to recount Duke's February 2017 confession to them. In the alleged confession, Duke explains how and why Grinstead was murdered.

FEB. 11, 2019: Bond denied, new evidence revealed during hearing for man accused of killing Tara Grinstead

Duke's attorneys filed a motion in January of this year, asking a judge to grant him bond on the basis that he had no prior felony arrests or convictions, was arrested without incident after he was questioned about Grinstead's death and poses no threat of running away from the area. GBI Agent Jason Shoudel revealed new evidence at the hearing, saying Duke's DNA was found on a glove found in Grinstead's yard after her disappearance.

FEB. 12, 2019: Defense claims false confession, state asks for Ryan Duke's alibi

After Duke's bond was denied, he was back in court for a second day. This time the prosecution asked Judge Bill Reinhardt to require the defense to provide an alibi for Duke on the night Grinstead went missing.

MARCH 5, 2019: Lawyers for accused Tara Grinstead killer file motion asking for more time

Duke's defense team was given until March 8 to present their discoveries to the court, but Judge Reinhardt turned down their requests for the state to pay for an investigator to help them out. The lawyers filed a motion saying they couldn't compile information in the time given and needed more time to prepare for the trial. Their motion for a delay in trial was denied three days later.

MARCH 15, 2019: Ryan Duke says he was asleep when Tara Grinstead was murdered

A notice of intent was filed on March 11, saying Duke was at his mobile home in Fitzgerald the night Grinstead went missing. The document says Duke was with his brother, Stephen, Bo Dukes, who is a co-defendant in the case, and Ben McMahan, who is now deceased. At some point during the night, Bo and McMahan left the trailer while Stephen and Ryan were asleep in different areas of the trailer. During Bo's Wilcox County trial in March, Stephen testified, saying he couldn't confirm that happened.

MARCH 19, 2019: Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke's names were in reports since 2005, retired GBI agent says

During Bo Dukes' trial, it was revealed law enforcement had Bo and Ryan's names on file since 2005. Their names showed up at least twice, once in a 2005 Irwin County Sheriff's Office report and another time in a 2008 GBI interview. The special agent in charge at the time took the fall while on the witness stand, saying it was his fault it was not looked into.

MARCH 22, 2019: 'I failed Tara Grinstead:' Bo Dukes sentenced to 25 years, speaks at his own hearing

Ryan's co-defedant in the case, Bo Dukes, had one of his trials in Wilcox County, where he was convicted of lying to the GBI and concealing Grinstead's death. He was then sentenced to the maximum sentence of 25 years. Bo still faces charges in two other counties.

MARCH 26, 2019: Ryan Duke's lawyers file emergency appeal to Georgia Supreme Court

Duke's defense lawyers, John and Ashleigh Merchant, filed an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court to halt his trial. They had requested a private investigator be paid for by the state to help them prepare for the trial, but Judge Reinhardt previously denied this motion. At the time, the Merchants said the trial was on hold until the state Supreme Court ruled.

MARCH 28, 2019: Georgia Supreme Court grants delay in murder trial

Duke's trial was scheduled to start April 1, 2019, but the court delayed it in order to hear arguments from the defense regarding the state funds for an investigator and expert witnesses.

JUNE 10, 2019: Georgia Supreme Court denies accused killer's appeal

The Georgia Supreme Court said they don't have jurisdiction to act on whether Duke should be granted state funds for a private investigator. They can only do that with a trial judge's signature, so the matter was directed back to Reinhardt.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2019: Tara Grinstead murder case due back in court Friday

A court hearing for Duke set for Friday, September 13, revolved around whether the state can pay for private investigators for his defense.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2019: Prosecution, defense agree to send Ryan Duke case back to Georgia Supreme Court

After two and a half hours of arguments at the hearing, the prosecution and the defense told Judge Reinhardt they'd like the state's Supreme Court to hear the funding arguments before the trial begins. 

The DA’s office says Reinhardt must sign a "certificate of immediate review" before the Georgia Supreme Court can hear the funding arguments. There is no estimate on when a trial date will be set.


Grinstead goes missing (2005)

Tara Grinstead: Missing for over a decade

STAY ALERT | Download our FREE app now to receive breaking news and weather alerts. You can find the app on the Apple Store and Google Play

STAY UPDATED | Click here to subscribe to our Midday Minute newsletter and receive the latest headlines and information in your inbox every day.

Have a news tip? Email news@13wmaz.com, or visit our Facebook page.

Before You Leave, Check This Out