BRATTLEBORO -- For the past 17 years John Grega has been in prison, serving time for the murder of his wife and waiting for a chance to prove that he did not commit the crime.
On Thursday Grega's chance to prove his innocence got a little closer.
Grega, 50, made a dramatic appearance in Windham County Superior Court to ask Judge John Wesley to consider releasing him, or to at least schedule a new trial, after analysis of DNA evidence appeared to show that another man was involved in the murder.
After a 30-minute status conference, Wesley agreed to schedule a hearing to allow the state, and Grega's defense team, to bring in expert witnesses to talk about the DNA.
After that hearing, which Wesley said he was going to schedule as soon as possible, Grega's argument could potentially be strengthened, and the New York man, who has been in prison for almost two decades, could walk free.
"My prayers have been answered," his mother, Marion Grega, told the Reformer after Thursday's conference. "We can't wait to get him home."
Grega was convicted in 1995 of aggravated sexual assault in the rape and killing of his wife, Christine.
The couple was on vacation in West Dover with their then-2-year-old son when Christine Grega, 31, was killed.
The Vermont Defender General's Office and Burlington attorney Ian Carleton filed a motion in Windham Superior Court Tuesday asking that Grega be freed, or at least be
The motion was filed under the Innocence Protection Act, a 2008 Vermont law that allows those who have been convicted of certain serious crimes to ask the state to consider results from the testing of biological evidence that might not have been available at the time of the original trial.
Tuesday's request was the first time a Vermont court was asked to overturn a conviction under the 4-year-old law.
Grega appeared in court wearing a dark suit, with shackles around his legs and arms.
His parents, and brother and sister, sat behind him.
He looked back at his family and smiled, and then took a deep breath before sitting down.
Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver said that at this time she was opposed to the petition to release Grega and she said she needed more time to test 12 more samples to compare against the unknown DNA -- four of which she had yet to collect. There's a chance the DNA could have come from someone who came in contact with the body or with a possible weapon that was used in the murder after the crime was committed.
Shriver said she also opposed the call for a new trial because she was still testing the DNA against people who could have potentially contaminated the DNA sample after it had been collected.
The DNA was originally taken from one of the wounds on Christine Grega's body.
Grega originally had access to the new DNA results two months ago and he could have filed his motion then, Carleton said, but he agreed to give the state time to complete its investigation.
During the conference, Wesley asked Shriver why he should grant her more time.
Shriver said her office has been trying to track down the people who were near the crime scene in 1994, and she has been finding them in Arkansas, Kentucky, New Mexico and Arizona.
She said her office has been looking at emergency responders and workers in the state medical examiner's office, the funeral home and the condominium complex where the Grega's were staying.
"We have been working on this but I have more work to do," Shriver said.
Carleton argued that the DNA proved there was someone else involved in the murder.
He said regardless of what Shriver finds, it will not diminish the fact that someone else's DNA was found inside the body of Christine Grega.
"It is not appropriate to wait 60 days while the state grasps at straws," Carleton said. "John needs to be set free or a new trial has to be established."
And Wesley agreed, saying that whatever Shriver finds, it will most likely be necessary to call a new trial to allow a jury to consider the new evidence.
The 2008 Vermont law requires a judge to hold a status conference as soon as possible after a motion is filed to consider the new evidence.
Wesley was able to carve out the 30 minute conference from his schedule within two days, but he said it was going to be much more difficult to find time for a full hearing with the busy schedules of the court and of the attorneys to consider.
As Grega turned to walk out, his sister said "Love you, John," and he was returned to the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield where he will wait until the next hearing is scheduled.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.