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Former Georgia Beauty Queen Tara Grinstead's Accused Killer Takes The Stand, Says His Friend Is The Real Murderer

Ryan Duke testified that he had been passed out near the toilet of his mobile home in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2005 when his close friend Bo Dukes woke him up and confessed to killing high school teacher Tara Grinstead. 

By Jill Sederstrom
A photo of missing woman Tara Grinstead

A man accused of killing former Georgia beauty queen Tara Grinstead denied taking her life and testified on the stand that the real killer was his close friend.

Ryan Duke is on trial for killing Grinstead, a high school teacher in the small town of Ocilla, Georgia in her home in 2005, then burning her body at a pecan field.

He allegedly confessed to the crime during a lengthy interview with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in 2017, but on the stand Tuesday Duke insisted he never killed Grinstead, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  

“Did you murder Tara Grinstead?” his defense attorney Evan Gibbs asked.

“I did not,” Duke replied, adding that he had also never been in her home.

Ryan’s friend Bo Dukes implicated Ryan in the crime after he confessed to investigators that he helped Ryan burn Grinstead’s body in a family member’s pecan field. Bo is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison for his role in concealing the murder.

However, on Tuesday, Ryan Duke testified that the roles had actually been reversed. He insisted that Bo had been the real killer and he had only helped to burn the body after Grinstead was already dead.

He testified that at the time of the murder Bo had been living with him and his brother in their mobile home, although he described it as a fraught relationship.

He said Bo often left out violent pornographic material including images of “bondage” that he “found offensive” and didn’t contribute financially to the household, Law & Crime reports.  

On Oct. 22, 2005—the night Grinstead disappeared—Ryan said he had been drinking beer and tequila. He recalled passing out in the bathroom near the toilet after throwing up and said he was awakened early the next morning by Bo, who allegedly claimed he had killed Grinstead.

“He looked panicked, freaked out,” Ryan testified, according to WSB-TV.

Bo showed him the slain teacher’s purse, but Ryan said he initially believed that Bo had just robbed Grinstead.

He testified that he discovered the grim reality when Bo Dukes took him to Grinstead’s body in a pecan orchard.

“She was beat up. She had bruises on her arms and legs,” he said. “I’m dry-heaving, I’m crying.”

While Ryan said he was distraught at finding Grinstead dead, he testified that Bo had laughed and seemed “almost excited” and “cheerful.”

According to his account, Bo then began to molest the body.

“He pushes up her shirt, starts fondling her,” he testified, according to Law & Crime. “I remember telling him to stop, and I remember how he looked at me. It was like I had never seen him before.”

Ryan testified that Bo lit the body on fire and that he agreed not to say anything about the murder because Bo had threatened that if he ever did reveal the truth he’d burn down Ryan’s home.

“He implied this place would go up like wild fire,” he testified.

A police handout of Ryan Duke

He claimed that after the incident he had taken a downward spiral, attempting to commit suicide on several occasions and relying heavily on drugs and alcohol.

Ryan testified that he had been under the influence of morphine, Percocet, marijuana and “probably a couple of Vicodin” when he confessed to killing Grinstead to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in 2017.

At the time, he told investigators that he had killed Grinstead when she surprised him after he broke into her house to steal money for drugs. He told authorities that he had hit Grinstead and killed her.

On the stand Tuesday, he said that he had falsely confessed to the murder because he didn’t think Bo would ever tell the truth and said he was afraid of his one-time friend.

“I was prepared to take the blame for something I did not do,” he said, according to the local paper.

Ryan said although he lied to investigators, he was never able to lie to his father and said he only felt comfortable telling the truth now on the stand because “Bo is in prison,” WMAZ reports.

During cross examination, prosecutors attacked Ryan’s version of events, questioning him about why investigators later found a glove with both his and Grinstead’s DNA in the front yard of her home.

They also brought up contradicting stories that Ryan had told about his relationship with Grinstead, including a claim once to a friend that he had been sleeping with Grinstead even though he insisted now he had not known her.

Prosecutors also questioned the claim that he had been afraid of Bo, pointing out that Ryan had been the one to contact Bo on Facebook.

“Same man who you’re saying forced you to burn her body, threatened that he would burn down your trailer if you said anything? Same man who you say had already committed murder—the conversation on Facebook was you reaching out to him,” Assistant District Attorney JD Hart said.

Bo Dukes was also called to the stand on Tuesday; however, he immediately took the fifth to avoid incriminating himself and was dismissed minutes later.

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday.