Documents: Investigators knew suspects' names within 1 month of beauty queen's disappearance

IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. — In a big turn of events in the murder of a south Georgia teacher and beauty queen, Channel 2 Action News has learned that defense attorneys said investigators knew the names of the suspects within a month of Tara Grinstead's disappearance in 2005.

Channel 2's Tony Thomas, who has covered this story from the time Grinstead was reported missing, obtained court documents filed this week in which lawyers for accused murderer  Ryan Duke said the case against him should fall apart because police were given his name and told about an alleged confession he made within weeks of Grinstead's disappearance.

[READ: Tara Grinstead's sister says she's known suspect's family for years: 'It's unreal']

Nearly 12 years passed before Duke and his friend Bo Dukes were arrested in the case, far past when the statute of limitations expired, lawyers said.

Duke's legal team said, even as south Georgia was in turmoil looking for the missing teacher, a drinking buddy of the two suspects told authorities Dukes had confessed to killing Grinstead and then burning her body and dumping it in a pecan field.

[READ: Man arrested in connection with 2005 disappearance of Georgia teacher]

“It is undisputed that Irwin County law enforcement knew of these crimes within months of the disappearance of Tara Grinstead. In fact, a search of the area where Ms. Grinstead’s body was allegedly burned was conducted,” attorneys said in the documents.

“This is a possible site where she may have been disposed of,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent J.T. Ricketson told Thomas in February, showing him where GBI agents had searched for Grinstead.

[READ: Dozens dig for Tara Grinstead's remains in south Georgia]

The drunken confession allegedly happened in the same pecan field where, in 2017, the GBI swarmed, hunting for any signs of Grinstead.

Agents said they'd just received a tip from a new source.

[READ: Tara Grinstead murder suspect indicted on 6 charges]

Defense lawyers said it was the same man who had gone to authorities years before.

In paperwork, lawyers said that, because of that, all the charges but murder should be dropped.

“We are hopeful we can find her remains,” Ricketson told Thomas.

[READ: Man who started Tara Grinstead podcast talks about case breakthrough]

GBI officials said they can't comment on the latest filings, and the Irwin County district attorney has not returned Thomas’ calls.

Thomas said he has spoken many times over the years with a good friend of the tipster whose tip led to the latest filing.

[READ: Arrest in Grinstead case emotional for those who knew her well]

Lawyers said the man also went to authorities in 2005 and was interviewed again last year.

He'd mentioned confessions but would never give names, saying he didn't want to drag anyone through the mud unless investigators took action.