Al­leged killer of­fered his con­fes­sion to GBI

Duke’s mo­tive, other de­tails were leaked on­line in the case.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Alexis Stevens [email protected]

The man ac­cused of killing Tara Grin­stead con­fessed, of­fered his mo­tive and an apol­ogy in the hours be­fore he was ar­rested, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tion doc­u­ments leaked on­line this week. The doc­u­ments ap­pear to be part of the mas­sive case file into the death of the pop­u­lar south Ge­or­gia high school teacher.

Ryan Alexan­der Duke said he was un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs and al­co­hol when he broke into Tara Grin­stead’s home hours af­ter she told friends good­bye on Oct. 22, 2005. Duke told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he’d planned to steal money from her purse, but when she caught him there, Duke struck her with his fist. Or maybe he had choked her. His mem­ory was fuzzy.

Grin­stead, 30, a his­tory teacher

and a for­mer beauty queen, was last seen alive at a party that day. When she failed to show up in her class­room two days later, a mas­sive search was launched to find her, and it be­came a na­tional news story. The re­ward for in­for­ma­tion grew, but no trace of Grin­stead was found.

More than 11 years later, GBI agents knocked on Duke’s front door. He knew the rea­son be­fore Grin­stead’s name was men­tioned.

“I was in­volved with it, man,” Duke said while be­ing ques­tioned by GBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­side the Ocilla Po­lice Depart­ment. “... I was a cow­ard or I would have told this a long time ago and I can­not take it back, and I am ashamed of my be­hav­ior and hid­ing a lie.”

Duke was ar­rested the same day as his al­leged con­fes­sion: Feb. 22, 2017. Within a week, a sec­ond man, Bo Dukes, also was charged in what had be­come a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But the GBI has de­clined to an­swer many key ques­tions, in­clud­ing how Grin­stead died and why.

Ear­lier this week, 11 pages from the in­ves­tiga­tive case file ap­peared on the so­cial me­dia web­site Red­dit — in­clud­ing what Duke said just be­fore his ar­rest. It’s not known who pub­lished the in­for­ma­tion, which is not avail­able to the pub­lic un­der the Ge­or­gia Open Records law be­cause the case is on­go­ing.

Pros­e­cu­tors and Duke’s at­tor­neys de­clined to com­ment on the doc­u­ments Thurs­day when con­tacted by The AJC and Chan­nel 2 Ac­tion News.

But the doc­u­ments de­tail­ing Duke’s con­fes­sion are au­then­tic, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I am com­fort­able that they are le­git,” Philip Hol­loway, a Cobb County at­tor­ney, told The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion.

Hol­loway is not di­rectly in­volved in the Grin­stead case, but has been fea­tured on a pop­u­lar pod­cast about the Grin­stead case, “Up and Van­ished.” Hol­loway said he has seen the doc­u­ments con­tain­ing notes from Duke’s in­ter­view on Red­dit and says they match the for­mat of other GBI files, as well as other el­e­ments of the case file at­tor­neys have cited in mo­tions.

Two members of law en­force­ment fa­mil­iar with the case also told Chan­nel 2 the doc­u­ments are from the Grin­stead case file. The two asked to not be iden­ti­fied be­cause they are not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the case.

So who leaked the doc­u­ments? Not the GBI, the agency said Thurs­day. Af­ter the two men were ar­rested, the case file was turned over to two dis­trict at­tor­neys, Spe­cial Agent J.T. Rick­et­son said. Pros­e­cu­tors likely pro­vided de­fense at­tor­neys with copies of the file, the GBI said.

Re­gard­less of who re­leased the doc­u­ments, for the first time they sug­gest a mo­tive for the killing among other new de­tails: Duke claimed he picked Grin­stead’s home ran­domly for a theft to sup­port his drug habit and had never pre­vi­ously had con­tact with her, de­spite the GBI’s state­ment that he was one of her for­mer stu­dents.

Af­ter hit­ting Grin­stead, Duke told po­lice she fell to the ground and he left. He later re­turned to her home with la­tex gloves and a quilt. Just be­fore ar­riv­ing at her home, he used a pay phone to dial “411” to get Grin­stead’s home phone num­ber. Duke said he’d hoped Grin­stead would an­swer, but she did not.

“It should be noted the call of 411 from the pay phone was dis­cov­ered by GBI agents in 2005 and had never been dis­closed to any­one else in law en­force­ment or the me­dia,” the doc­u­ments state. “The fact Duke knew about the tele­phone call was guilty knowl­edge only known by GBI and guilty per­sons.”

Back at her house, Duke told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he wrapped Grin­stead’s body in the quilt and put it in the back of a pickup truck be­long­ing to his friend, Bo Dukes. Duke said he threw Grin­stead’s purse and keys into a pub­lic trash bin in Fitzger­ald be­fore dump­ing her body in a field.

Sev­eral days later, Duke told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he and Dukes re­turned to the body and moved it deeper into the woods.

“Bo (Dukes) and Duke ob­tained sev­eral truck­loads of wood from a shed on the prop­erty and cre­mated Grin­stead’s body over sev­eral days,” the case doc­u­ments state.

Duke led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to the area where Grin­stead’s body was burned, the GBI doc­u­ments state. Af­ter he and Dukes were ar­rested, the GBI searched woods be­hind a pe­can farm in the area but have not pub­licly said what was found.

In April 2017, a grand jury in­dicted Duke on six counts, in­clud­ing mal­ice mur­der, felony mur­der, ag­gra­vated as­sault, bur­glary and con­ceal­ing the death of an­other. In June 2017, Dukes was in­dicted on charges in­clud­ing con­ceal­ing a death, tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence, and hin­der­ing ap­pre­hen­sion of a crim­i­nal.

“I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused,” Duke told GBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors the day of his ar­rest. “I took her life, robbed her of a chance to get mar­ried and have chil­dren, grow­ing old, and she didn’t de­serve that and there is noth­ing I can do to change it.”

Duke told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he’d been car­ry­ing the guilt from his ac­tions for sev­eral years, but he’d never be­fore been ques­tioned about Grin­stead’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

At a mo­tions hear­ing last week in Ir­win County, a judge set a trial date of April 1 for Duke’s mur­der trial. But the lo­ca­tion of the trial has not yet been fi­nal­ized.

The Tara Grin­stead case be­came a na­tional news story.

HYOSUB SHIN / [email protected] AJC.COM

Ryan Alexan­der Duke (cen­ter), who is charged with mur­der­ing Tara Grin­stead back in 2005, con­fers with his at­tor­neys, John Mer­chant (left) and Ash­leigh Mer­chant, dur­ing mo­tion hear­ings at Ir­win County Court­house in Ocilla last month.

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