ABBEVILLE, Ga. — A jury on Thursday convicted a Georgia man of concealing the death of a teacher whose slaying remained a mystery for more than a decade after her body was burned to ash and bone fragments in a rural pecan orchard.
Bo Dukes was the first of two suspects to stand trial in the 2005 death of Tara Grinstead. The fate of the teacher and former beauty queen didn’t come to light until the men were arrested in 2017.
Prosecutors in Wilcox County charged Dukes, 34, with covering up Grinstead’s death by lying to police in a 2016 interview about the case. But Dukes’ defense attorney said they failed to prove he intentionally lied.
It took the jury less than an hour to convict Dukes on four counts, including two of making a false statement, hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealing the death of another, news outlets reported. Sentencing for Dukes is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.
The charges carry a combined penalty of up to 25 years in prison. He still faces a trial on charges directly related to burning Grinstead’s body in a neighboring county.
District Attorney Brad Rigby, during closing arguments, told jurors Dukes inflicted “more pain” when he lied to police a decade later as the woman remained missing.
“He had the opportunity to make the right decision and tell the truth, but he went in a different direction and he abused honor and he abused trust,” Rigby said. “He chose to inflict more pain and suffering to the Grinsteads on that day.”
Dukes is the first of two suspects to stand trial in the death of Grinstead, whose disappearance in October 2005 stumped her hometown of Ocilla for more than a decade. Her face loomed large on a billboard in the area seeking tips in her disappearance until arrests were made in February 2017.
Defense attorney John Fox argued there was no evidence Dukes intentionally lied to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who interviewed him in 2016. In the 14-minute recorded conversation, Dukes denied the account of an old Army buddy, John McCullough, that a drunken Dukes confessed to him in 2006 that he helped dispose of Grinstead’s body.
“Dukes told the GBI that he did not recall having a conversation with John McCullough,” Fox said. “He didn’t tell them he did not have a conversation with John McCullough.”
He added: “Considering how intoxicated he was, based on McCullough’s own testimony, does that seem unreasonable to you?”
Dukes later confessed in great detail when investigators interviewed him again a few months later in February 2017. He said his best friend had broken into Grinstead’s home and strangled her in her bed, then used a pickup truck he’d borrowed from Dukes to move her body to a pecan orchard owned by Dukes’ uncle.
Dukes said his friend took him to Grinstead’s body and together they moved it deeper into the woods, built a bonfire atop the corpse and burned it for two days.
Rigby said the men set fire to the remains of a woman who had “a smile that won beauty pageants” and ensured she was “reduced to bits of skull, vertebra and teeth.” Investigators in 2017 found the bone fragments buried in the orchard amid ash and household garbage.
Dukes’ friend with a similar last name, Ryan Alexander Duke, is charged with murder. He is scheduled to stand trial April 1 in Irwin County, where Grinstead lived.
GBI agent Jason Shoudel testified at a pretrial court hearing that Duke confessed to killing Grinstead and burning her body. He said DNA from both Duke and Grinstead was found on a latex glove recovered outside her home.
But Duke’s defense attorneys say Duke gave a false confession while he was under the influence of drugs. They have said in court documents that Duke was at home asleep the night Grinstead was killed.