The man who was acquitted of murdering Tara Grinstead has been sentenced after being found guilty of concealing the beloved beauty queen’s death.
Ryan Duke, 36, received the maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars on Monday after being found guilty of concealing Grinstead’s murder, according to Fox Atlanta affiliate WAGA-TV. An Irwin County jury found him not guilty on Friday on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary in connection with the 2005 disappearance of the Georgia high school teacher, whose burned remains were found years later.
Duke, who argued that his former friend and roommate, Bo Dukes, was the one responsible for killing Grinstead, will also get five years credit for time served.
Bo Dukes was convicted in 2019 and is currently serving a 25-year sentence for his role in concealing Grinstead’s murder.
Grinstead had reportedly been both suspects' 11th-grade history teacher in the small town of Ocilla, Georgia — about 100 miles south of Macon — before she disappeared from her home in October 2005. Her murder went unsolved for years until Bo Dukes implicated Ryan Duke in 2017. Both were accused of strangling Grinstead at her residence and burning her remains in a pecan grove owned by Bo Dukes’ uncle.
Ryan Duke confessed to the murders in 2017 but recanted his statements before trial. His defense pointed to Ryan Duke being under the influence of drugs when he made the statements. On the stand, Ryan Duke admitted to being on morphine, Percocet, marijuana and other drugs, which he claimed prompted him to give an alleged false confession.
At Monday’s sentencing, Grinstead’s stepmother, Connie Grinstead, addressed the court.
“For over 11 years, we went to bed every night wondering where Tara was, and every morning we woke up asking the same question: Where is she?” said Grinstead. “There were some days the heartache was so great we could barely even function.”
“We will always hate what this defendant did to Tara and the people who loved her,” she added.
During the murder trial, Ryan Duke claimed that he passed out at his mobile home — which he shared with Bo Dukes — and woke the next day to his roommate being in possession of Grinstead’s purse and allegedly confessing to the murder. Bo Dukes, on the other hand, accused Ryan Duke of the murder, claiming he only helped burn Grinstead’s corpse.
Ryan Duke also claimed, when he took the stand on Tuesday, that Bo Dukes appeared “cheerful” and “almost excited” when he molested Grinstead’s corpse.
At the sentencing hearing, Grinstead’s sister, Anita Gattis, told the court Duke was “evil” and a “vile human,” according to the Fox affiliate.
“Over the course of the last three weeks, reliving this heinous act that Ryan Alexander Duke committed ripped open the wounds,” said Gattis.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt was direct in his statements just before imposing the maximum sentence.
“You don’t know, really, what pain your actions cause until somebody reminds you that every day, what they live with is, ‘They. Can’t. Find. Tara,’” said Reinhardt. “Every day, they could not find her. And it is true that despite whatever your selfish feelings were for not coming forward, you had the power to stop that pain for years and years.”
Reinhardt said he found Ryan Duke’s testimony remorseful but that it wasn’t enough to ease the pain of Grinstead’s loved ones.
“Every statement I heard you made was remorseful, and you should be remorseful,” said Reinhardt. “It won’t ever leave you, I’m sure. But it won’t ever leave those people, either until the day they die. Until the day they die.”
If ha had been convicted on the other charges, Duke faced life in prison, according to Atlanta’s WSB-TV. Because of time already served, Duke is immediately eligible for parole.