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A man long suspected of killing a Georgia high school teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead has been acquitted for her murder, though the jury believes he did help conceal her death.
An Irwin County jury decided Friday morning that Duke, 36, is not guilty of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary in connection with the 2005 killing of the 30-year-old Grinstead. They did, however, convict him of concealing a death, WSB-TV reports.
Duke will be sentenced for that charge on Monday and faces up to 10 years behind bars.
Prosecutors had argued Duke killed Grinstead in her Ocilla, Georgia home before burning her body in a pecan field. Duke had allegedly confessed to the crime during a 2017 interview with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. During his testimony, Duke said he'd been under the influence of several drugs, including morphine, Percocet, marijuana and "probably a couple of Vicodin" at the time of the confession and that it wasn't the truth.
Ryan Duke's friend Bo Dukes had implicated Ryan in the crime, confessing to investigators that he helped him burn Grinstead’s body. Bo is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison for concealing the murder after he was convicted in 2019. However, Duke stated during his trial that the roles were reversed: Bo was the real killer and he only helped to burn the body after the fact.
On Oct. 22, 2005, the night Grinstead was killed, Duke insisted he was at home drinking beer and tequila. He said he passed out in the bathroom and that the next morning, Bo, who had been living in Duke's mobile home at the time, showed up and told him he'd killed Grinstead, showing him her purse.
Bo then allegedly took Duke to the pecan orchard, where Grinstead's body was.
“She was beat up. She had bruises on her arms and legs,” he testified. “I’m dry-heaving, I’m crying.”
In contrast, Duke testified Tuesday that Bo appeared "cheerful" and "almost excited." He alleged that Bo began molesting Grinstead's corpse.
Duke said Bo then lit her body on fire and that he agreed to remain silent out of fear that Bo would burn down his home if he told anyone the truth.
“He implied this place would go up like wild fire,” he testified.
Prosecutors sought to poke holes in Duke's account, questioning him as to why investigators found a glove containing both his and Grinstead’s DNA in the front yard of her home.
Bo Dukes was also called to the stand on Tuesday, but quickly asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Grinstead taught 11th grade history at a high school in the small town of Ocilla. She won the title of Miss Tifton in 1999 and also competed in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant. She was legally declared dead in 2010. Investigators believe she was killed in a robbery gone wrong.
Duke has already served about five years in jail since he was charged in 2017.
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