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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cox Media Group