Grega civil suit trial postponed four months


BRATTLEBORO — A judge has agreed to extend the discovery schedule in a civil lawsuit as a result of a remanded conviction in a 1994 murder case from Dover.

"The court grants defendant (William) Pettengill's motion ..." noted the order issued on Jan. 12. But the motion was only granted in part, extending the deadline for summary judgment proposals no later than March 1. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on June 6, with a trial to begin thereafter. Witness and exhibit lists are expected no later than May 31. The original jury draw was scheduled for Feb. 1.

John Grega was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering his wife, Christine, while on a family vacation in Dover in 1994. But in 2011, the state vacated his conviction and recommended a retrial after DNA testing conducted as part of Vermont's Innocence Protection Act revealed the presence of unknown male DNA, as well as Grega's, on a piece of evidence taken from the scene. In 2013, the state withdrew charges to allow for more testing and investigation. Grega filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him with prejudice, but the court denied that request. However, before the state could issue a decision on whether to re-charge Grega, he died in an automobile crash on Jan. 23, 2015, near his home on Long Island. After his death, Grega's brother, Jeff Grega, took over the lawsuit as executor/plaintiff.

In August 2015, a federal charge dismissed the town of Dover from the suit, as well as several claims against former State's Attorney Dan Davis, and three Vermont State Troopers. However, the judge upheld a claim that Davis and the investigators conspired to fabricate evidence that led to Grega's conviction.

On Dec. 15, attorneys for the state submitted a motion to extend the discovery schedule through June 2016.

Attorneys for Jeff Grega, in his capacity as executor of estate of John Grega, previously filed a motion requesting the trial go ahead as originally scheduled. On Jan. 11, Pettengill's attorneys filed a motion in opposition to that filing. Pettengill's attorneys hope to extend the discovery schedule by four months.

"In light of the departure of (Assistant Attorney General Jonathan) Rose as lead counsel, as well as the introduction by Plaintiff of unanticipated and complex expert issues, a short extension of the schedule is both reasonable and necessary to ensure Defendant (William) Pettengill has a full and fair opportunity to defend himself against the very serious charge lodged against him," wrote attorneys for the retired Vermont State Police detective who helped investigate the crime. "The prior discovery schedule was premised on the understanding that no expert testimony would be proffered on the limited factual issues presented by this case. Given the change in counsel and the dramatic increase in the scope of the proceeding in light of Plaintiff's expert disclosures, the requested time is not excessive — as it would only grant Defendant the eight months generally allotted in federal cases. ... To require Pettengill to proceed to trial without this short extension would necessarily impair his defense and could irreparably prejudice him in answering the grave allegation he faces."

According to Grega's attorneys, the state has been dragging its feet when it comes to agreeing to a court date.

Grega's attorney, Ian P. Carleton, of Sheehey Furlong & Behm P.C., wrote that despite the departure of Rose from the four-member team assigned the case "Attorney (Kate) Gallagher, who will be assuming the role of lead defense counsel, has been engaged in this case for at least six months ..."

"(T)he State's request might have traction if the State had made a good faith effort, or any effort, to meet the existing discovery schedule," wrote Carlton. "(T)here is no evidence the State has lifted a finger to prepare this case for trial."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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