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Tara Grinstead's family speaks in court before Ryan Duke sentenced

Tara's sister says the maximum penalty isn't enough. She says the family has served what feels like a "life sentence" since Tara vanished in October 2005.

OCILLA, Ga. — Judge Bill Reinhardt heard from Tara Grinstead's family and friends before sentencing Ryan Duke, the man accused of killing the Ocilla beauty queen and teacher.

Duke was sentenced to the maximum penalty for concealing a death in the state of Georgia--10 years. Judge Reinhardt says he could immediately be eligible for parole. 

A jury acquitted Duke on 5 of 6 charges Friday, including murder and aggravated assault. 

Anita Gattis says the legal system failed her sister, Tara Grinstead. Monday, Gattis said she still believes Ryan Duke killed her sister 16 years ago and stayed silent for 11 years.

With that, she asked the judge to sentence him to the maximum penalty for concealing a death--10 years. 

Gattis says she believes the maximum penalty isn't enough.  She says the family has served what feels like a "life sentence" since Tara vanished in October 2005.

"16 years. 6 months, and 27 days," Gattis told the court, saying the time it's been since Tara went missing. "The maximum he can serve for concealing the death of another is 10 years. That’s only seven years less than the sentence I and the rest of Tara’s family and friends have experienced due to his revolting and villainous action.  

Gattis says their family has lived in what feels like a prison, year after year, locked in a world of not knowing what happened to Tara. Still today, there are questions left unanswered. 

"Did she know she was going to die? Did she beg for her life? Did she suffer?" said Connie Grinstead, Tara's stepmom. 

But her family also told the court who Tara Grinstead was-- a daughter, a sister, a Christian, a beauty queen, and a beloved teacher who loved her students. 

"Ryan Duke may have desecrated her physical body to nothing but ashes, but he did not erase her memory from our minds, her voice from our ears, and her love from our hearts," Gattis said. 

"She didn’t just want them to do well in her class, she wanted them to do well in life," Grinstead said. 

Connie Grinstead says Tara is a teacher, even in death. 

"We hope others see the consequences of choosing a life of alcohol and drugs. The consequences of murdering someone and burning their body and the consequences of devastating the lives of those she left behind," Grinstead said. 

The family says they were shocked by Friday’s verdict when the jury found Ryan Duke not guilty of killing Tara.

"All the evidence was there. You can’t dispute DNA. DNA doesn't lie," Gattis said. 

Both Gattis and Grinstead say it doesn’t make sense that now Ryan Duke says he wants to tell the truth, claiming he only helped conceal the body.

Ryan testified Bo Dukes threatened him and that he’s now saying the truth because Bo is in prison. 

"Bo Dukes was convicted of federal charges and sentenced to 27 months of jail time in 2013. He was not released until 2017. I would like to ask Ryan why he did not come forward at that time and confess," Gattis said. 

"His testimony on the stand only seemed coached, well-rehearsed for self-serving benefits. It was amazing how great his memory was after spending some time in jail," Grinstead said. 

"Ryan may have been acquitted on several charges, but does that make him innocent? Absolutely not!" Gattis said. 

Now, Ryan Duke has already served five years. The court will have to give him credit for time served. 

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