Jury finds Ryan Duke not guilty of murdering Tara Grinstead

OCILLA, Ga. — A jury has found Ryan Duke not guilty of murdering Tara Grinstead.

Against high odds, the very man who confessed to killing the popular teacher in the small Irwin County town was found not guilty of murder.

Channel 2′s Tony Thomas has covered the case from the very beginning and was in the courtroom Friday as the verdict was read.

Grinstead’s family told Thomas they are devastated; prosecutors were defiant as the Duke family and their Atlanta-area based legal team become emotional.

Duke lowered his head and appeared to cry as five not guilty verdicts washed over him.

The only conviction handed down to him was for concealing the death of Grinstead.

“I had my hand on his shoulder as it was read, and I could feel the tension flow out of him,” Duke’s attorney Evan Gibbs said.

Duke faced potential life in prison for the teacher and beauty queen’s 2005 disappearance.


When he was arrested in 2017, Duke confessed to killing Grinstead, but at trial told the jury that was a lie and pointed the finger at his former best friend Bo Dukes.

“He said thank you many, many times. Just kept saying thank you. And he felt like the jury heard him,” Duke’s attorney Ashleigh Merchant said.

Deputies whisked Duke back to his cell after the verdict.

The judge denied bond until a sentencing hearing on Monday.

Duke could face up to five more years in prison on the concealment charge. He’s been in jail since his 2017 arrest.

“We are excited to get this chapter of our life behind us and move on to the next one,” Duke’s brother, Stephen Duke, said.

Grinstead’s family appeared stunned in court and left without comment. They will have their say Monday when they speak in court before sentencing.

“It’s been a 17-year nightmare for them. I know they are disappointed in the verdict like we are. We felt the evidence in this case was overwhelming,” Irwin County District Attorney Bryce Johnson said.

Thomas asked Johnson directly if Bo Dukes will be charged with murder. He flat out said no, no more charges from Irwin County.

The judge will sentence Duke on that charge on Monday morning.


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