IRWIN COUNTY, Ga. - It was an important day for state prosecutors as they presented evidence that they hope will convince a jury to find Ryan Duke guilty of the murdering Tara Grinstead.
The court heard the audio and video confession Duke made in 2017 Another video shown shows Duke leading investigators to where he says he dumped and burned her body.
"I can’t lie. I can’t live with myself I’m so sick of this," Ryan Duke said in a recorded video.
In his own recorded words Duke walked GBI investigators through how he killed, burned and buried Tara Grinstead.
GBI Agent Jason Shoudel was on the stand to testify. Shoudel was the one who taped the confession.
"I was stealing from her purse and she snuck up on me. She snuck up on me and I hit her. It was reactionary. I ran. I didn’t know what else to do," Ryan said.
Duke said he was on drugs at the time he broke into Grinstead's Ocilla home and doesn’t remember how exactly he killed her.
Duke said he left the home in a panic but came back to remove the body.
"He actually made the motion in the interview and put his hands up like this mimicking how he held her body," GBI Agent Jason Shoudel said. "As he’s doing that he started getting emotional and said ‘she was so small’ referring to the size of her in his arms,"
Another video shown portrayed Duke leading investigators to the pecan orchard he claims he took the lifeless body.
"It should be an opening when we cremated her. It was an opening like that. Wide open space so the woods wouldn’t catch on fire," Duke said while trying to find the location.
The defense argued Duke was on pain pills and not in his right mind when he made the confession.
GBI Agent Shoudel testified Duke knew what he was doing.
Duke told investigators he was mentally and physically cognitive.
Duke says he didn’t know Grinstead other than the fact that she was a teacher at the high school. He claims he realized this after she was dead. Duke also admitted to taking her purse and keys and leaving a glove at the residence.
The state says DNA later showed the glove did have his DNA on it.
The state still hopes to rest its case Monday.
Ryan Duke Trial Day 3 Recap
Wednesday, prosecutors called two witnesses before dismissing the jury a lunchtime to debate how much of the Duke's confession can be shown.
Witness Randy Hudson owned the pecan orchard where Grinstead's body was allegedly disposed. He's the uncle of Bo Dukes. Hudson said at the time he thought the burn site was an innocent bonfire.
"It was built out in the area where there just should not have been a fire," Hudson said.
GBI agent Gary Rothwell said GBI agents' reports included the names Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes in 2005. Rothwell said the GBI never followed up after their names appeared in an investigative summary.
Prosecutors asked Rothwell why no one followed up on a tip naming Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes as suspects.
"That is a question that has bothered me for years," he said. "I have talked to other agents and reviewed the documents and come to a recollection of what happened, and that is not an excuse for what happened."
Rothwell took the blame for the GBI assuming local law enforcement determined information indicating Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes as persons of interest were "unfounded." The GBI was overwhelmed with tips at the time and this one slipped through the cracks.
"That was a presumption that we should have never, ever made, but it happened, and it's my fault," Rothwell said.
Ryan Duke Trial Day 2 Recap
Tuesday, the witness list focused on the investigators who have worked the case over the years.
While it might have not been explosive "smoking gun" testimony, it did paint a picture of the scene police officers were met with during a welfare check at the high school teacher’s home 17 years ago when she failed to show up to work on a particular Monday in October 2005.
The morning started with testimony from Bill Barrs with the Ocilla Police Department, who was tasked with checking Grinstead’s home.
Several agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also took the stand. They laid out the evidence collected at Grinstead’s property just following her disappearance.
Another main focus on Tuesday was the glove found just outside Grinstead’s home. Jurors heard the forensic analysis on that piece of evidence.
Jurors also heard voicemails left in the home.
Ryan Duke Trial Day 1 Recap
State and defense teams made their pitches to jurors and began examining witnesses.
The defense argued the prosecution has no evidence tying Duke to the house that night and Duke's confession was made under the influence of medication. The defense argued the case is about power and influence, which their client lacks.
The state went through photos and evidence, including a glove found at the home with the DNA of Grinstead and a man. Prosecutors said Duke took law enforcement to the pecan orchard where he confessed to burning and dumping Grinstead's body.
The state's witness called Grinstead's 79-year-old father, Billy Grinstead, to the stand, who broke down. Prosecutors called friends and acquaintances of the Georgia teacher and beauty queen.
One witness, Heath Dykes, testified to having a relationship with Grinstead while his was married. He went looking for her the night she disappeared and sparked the search for the woman when he alerted authorities the next day.
Tara Grinstead missing person, death investigation
Tara Grinstead didn’t show up for work on October 24, 2005.
Her colleagues at the school where she worked called the Ocilla Police Department to check on the 11th-grade teacher’s home.
Investigators said Grinstead’s car was in the driveway when police arrived at the home. The door was locked.
A search of Grinstead’s home revealed some oddities: her cellphone was still connected to a charger by the nightstand, her keys and purse were missing and her bedside clock was on the floor and was six hours off.
Tara Grinstead (Family photo) (Provided by family)
Police found her car seat in position for someone taller, and police said they found an envelope with $100 in cash on the dashboard.
There was a 34-hour gap between when someone last saw her and when officers performed that welfare check on Monday morning.
Ocilla Police Chief Billy Hancock called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help.
Years passed, and the GBI said Tara Grinstead’s case never "turned cold." However, the family eventually hired a private investigator.
Who is Bo Dukes?
Bo Dukes told investigators his friend, Ryan Duke, confessed he had accidentally killed Grinstead and needed his truck to transfer her body.
He admitted to helping his friend burn the body until, "it looked like it was all ash."
In March 2019, Dukes was convicted of helping conceal Grinstead’s death and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Who is Ryan Duke?
Ryan Duke is standing trial for Grinstead’s murder
Defense appeals delayed Ryan Duke’s trial since the original 2019 start date.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified at a pretrial hearing that Duke "spontaneously and unsolicited" confessed to killing Grinstead after breaking into her home to steal money for drugs. GBI agents have also said DNA matching both Duke and Grinstead was found on a latex glove discovered in her yard.
Duke’s attorneys have said he made a false confession under the influence of drugs. They said in court filings that Duke was asleep at home when Grinstead was killed.
If convicted of murder, Duke faces an automatic sentence of life in prison.
Who was Tara Grinstead?
Tara Faye Grinstead was the youngest child of Bill and Faye Grinstead, born in 1974. She and her older sister Anita grew up in the Georgia town of Hawkinsville.
The talented signer was named Miss Tifton and competed in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant.
Tara Grinstead poses with one of her pageant crowns. (Family photo) (Provided by family)
Grinstead graduated from Middle Georgia College and began teaching at Irwin County High School in Ocilla in 1998.
An Irwin County Probate judge declared Grinstead dead in absentia in December 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.