Man sentenced to 25 years in missing Georgia teacher's death

Jury convicts 1st defendant for role in 2005 slaying

Bo Dukes apologized to the Grinstead family Friday morning ahead of the sentencing.

ABBEVILLE, Ga. – A man convicted of helping hide the 2005 death of a missing Georgia teacher has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bo Dukes was sentenced Friday morning in court in Abbeville.

Dukes was convicted Thursday night of lying to investigators about the 2005 death of Tara Grinstead. The high school history teacher and former beauty queen's slaying remained a mystery for more than a decade after her body was burned to ashes and bone fragments in a rural pecan orchard.

What happened to the woman wasn't revealed until Dukes and another man were arrested in 2017.

Dukes was convicted of two counts of making a false statement, hindering the arrest of a criminal and concealing a death.

Prior to the sentencing, Dukes made a statement apologizing for what he did.

"To the Grinstead family, I'm truly sorry," Dukes said in the courtroom Friday morning. "My actions were cowardly, callous and cruel."

His co-defendant, Ryan Alexander Duke, is charged with murder in Grinstead's death and is scheduled for trial April 1 in Irwin County.

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.

In addition to his 25-year sentence,Dukes 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.”

Grinstead's 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.

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.