From: Beth Hemphill
IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. (Court TV) – The man who prosecutors say confessed to the 2005 murder of Tara Grinstead is in court Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of his murder trial, five years after he was indicted.
Ryan Alexander Duke, 36, has pleaded not guilty to his charges of malicious murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and concealment of death in connection with Grinstead’s death.
Duke and his attorneys are set to appear before Chief Justice Bill Reinhardt for a critical hearing regarding the only piece of DNA evidence that prosecutors say links Duke to Grinstead’s disappearance — a single latex glove.
At the last preliminary hearing in March, the parties reached an agreement regarding the validity of a relatively new type of DNA test used to open this cold case in 2017.
Prosecutors say the Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab used the TrueAllele DNA test to match Ryan Duke’s DNA profile to a sample on a latex glove found outside Grinstead’s home after he disappeared. Since then, the defense says it has received new records suggesting that DNA testing deviates from standard GBI testing protocols for DNA evidence.
The defense should question GBI’s medical examiners about their methodology and findings.
Duke’s trial has been suspended due to an ongoing financial dispute over who will pay expert witnesses in DNA, false confessions and psychology. His defense attorney, who took his case pro-Bono, argues that the state must pay, as they plan to introduce the evidence. Without it, Duke’s attorneys say he won’t get a fair trial.
Tift Superior Court Judicial Circuit Judge Bill Reinhard twice denied Duke’s request for money to pay these experts. He also denied Duke’s request for state funding, since Duke had already refused legal representation from public defenders in favor of his new attorney, who took his case pro bono.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defense, saying Duke attorneys could seek funding from state agencies to help pay the bill for expert witnesses, but they did not decide whether the funds taxpayers could be used.
Grinstead, a former beauty queen and 11and history professor, disappeared unexpectedly in October 2005 from his home in Ocilla, Georgia, a small rural town about two hours south of Atlanta.
Grinstead’s case remained unsolved for over a decade, until the ‘Up and Vanished’ podcast brought the cold case to life, ultimately leading to the arrest of two of his former students, Ryan Duke. , and his former best friend Bo Dukes.
>>>PODCAST: Up and Vanished: Season 1
Investigators believe Duke strangled Grinstead during a failed burglary at his home, then enlisted his buddy Bo Dukes to help burn and conceal his body in a nearby pecan orchard.
In February 2017, Duke confessed “spontaneously and unsolicited” to investigators, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. A GBI agent testified at a preliminary hearing that Duke confessed to killing Grinstead after breaking into her home to steal money for drugs.
Shortly after Dukes’ arrest, investigators conducted a three-day search of the pecan orchard owned by Bo Dukes’ family in Ben Hill County. Bo Dukes is charged with attempting to cover up a death, preventing arrest and tampering with evidence.
“We moved his body to a wooded area with a pile of wood and burned it for about two days,” Bo Dukes told investigators in a recorded video interview.
During Bo Dukes’ trial in 2019, GBI agents said human bones were discovered in the Dukes family’s pecan orchard. Dukes was convicted in 2019 of helping to cover up Grinstead’s death and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Ryan Duke claims to have made a false confession in 2017 and pleads not guilty to the murder of Tara Grinstead.
Jury selection is expected to begin on May 2, 2022.
Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV, contributed to this story.