MONTPELIER -- Lawyers for a former New York man in prison for the 1994 murder of his wife say new analysis of DNA evidence points strongly to his innocence.
The state defender general's office and a private Burlington lawyer filed court papers on Tuesday asking that John Grega, 50, be set free or at least be given a new trial.
Defender General Matthew Valerio said the Grega case marks the first time a Vermont court has been asked to overturn a conviction based on DNA evidence under a 2008 state law allowing those convicted of certain serious crimes to petition for DNA testing of biological evidence. It could mark the arrival in Vermont of a national trend in which serious felony convictions have been
Grega was convicted in 1995 of aggravated murder and aggravated sexual assault in the rape and killing of his wife, Christine, the previous year. The Gregas were from Lake Grove, N.Y., on Long Island and were vacationing with their then-2-year-old son in West Dover when Christine Grega, 31, was killed.
Grega was the first person convicted and sentenced under a then-new Vermont law setting a penalty of life in prison without parole for aggravated murder.
A motion filed in Windham Superior Court by Valerio's office and Burlington lawyer Ian Carleton said tests conducted recently by the state crime lab on a DNA sample taken from Christine Grega's body showed it was not that
"It is difficult to overstate the game-changing nature of this new evidence, especially in a case where, as here, the evidence of Mr. Grega's guilt has at all times been purely circumstantial," the lawyers wrote.
"Under the reasonable doubt standard, this new DNA evidence -- which was never presented to the jury and therefore was never considered in deliberations -- would have not just slightly, but vastly, increased the likelihood of an acquittal or a hung jury in the original trial," they added. "Put simply, we now have compelling evidence that John Grega did not commit the crime for which he has served nearly two decades in jail."
Valerio said the Windham County state's attorney's office would have a chance to respond to the motion, and then the court would have several options: It could reject the new filing; it could vacate Grega's conviction and set him free; it could let the conviction stand but reduce the sentence to time served and set Grega free, or it could order a new trial.
The state's attorney, Tracy Shriver, said Wednesday afternoon she did not want to comment until doing so in writing to the court.
The state's attorney at the time of Grega's conviction, Dan Davis, said he believes the conviction should stand. Davis, who now has a private law practice in the Brattleboro area, said there was ample other evidence indicating Grega was guilty.
Valerio said some in law enforcement opposed the 2008 law, known as the Innocence Protection Act, when it was passed, arguing that Vermont was not as prone as other states to miscarriages of justice.
"It was just very naive to think that we were as a justice system above anything that has occurred in other parts of the country," he said. "This is a rare thing, but it's not an impossible thing."