Lawsuit claims misconduct in murder probe
BRATTLEBORO -- John Grega believes a blend of incompetence, ignorance and misconduct put him in prison for more than 17 years for a murder he did not commit.
The New York man -- freed in 2012 after new DNA evidence emerged in the 1994 death of his wife in a West Dover condominium -- has filed a federal lawsuit against a local attorney, three investigators and the town of Dover.
He seeks both compensatory and punitive damages and also wants to "redress the unlawful policies and practices pursuant to which the defendants, acting under color of law, violated Mr. Grega's rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the state of Vermont."
In addition to detailing Grega's concerns about the original investigation and last year's unsuccessful attempt to reprosecute the case in Windham County, the lawsuit also contends Grega has sustained "nearly incalculable" physical and emotional traumas.
"He was deprived of the most productive years of his life and will never get them back. Nor will he ever retrieve the experience of raising his son or being with his father in the final years of life," the suit says. "Mr. Grega has spent the last two decades bearing the indescribable humiliation that accompanies being falsely labeled as the man who brutally assaulted and killed his wife."
The suit, filed in Vermont's U.S. District Court, names former Windham County State's Attorney Dan Davis as well as the town of Dover, which dispatched the first police officer to the scene of Christine Grega's murder on Sept. 12, 1994.
Also named as defendants are William Pettengill, Glen Cutting and Richard Holden, who have represented the Vermont State Police at various stages in the Grega case.
None of the defendants could be reached Tuesday aside from Davis, who told the Reformer that he is reviewing the suit with his attorney. However, Davis reiterated his belief that "Mr. Grega's jury returned the correct verdict."
That's a reference to Grega's conviction on Aug. 4, 1995, for the aggravated murder of his wife, who was found bloodied in the condominium's bathroom. Grega remained imprisoned until August 2012, when a judge in Windham County Superior Court vacated his conviction based on new evidence showing DNA from an unknown male in Christine Grega's body.
The Windham County State's Attorney's office subsequently filed an amended aggravated murder charge against Grega, but that charge was dismissed in August 2013. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled at some point.
Grega, however, contends that the investigation and prosecution of his wife's murder was flawed from the start. His claims include violations of due process, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, conspiracy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent training and supervision.
"Mr. Grega's wrongful conviction was no accident, but rather the result of unconstitutional and tortious acts by the defendants to this lawsuit, as well as policies, customs and practices that were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Grega's civil rights," Grega's attorneys wrote.
"Despite Mr. Grega's actual innocence, and in an effort to overcome the lack of evidence against him, defendants used unconstitutional techniques to obtain an erroneous conviction," the suit says. "Acting under color of law, defendants, for example: Manufactured evidence; destroyed evidence; failed to follow basic crime-scene investigation procedures; failed to investigate obvious leads that contradicted their narrow-minded focus on Mr. Grega; failed to take into account other evidence that suggested Mr. Grega's innocence; and deliberately presented false evidence to jurors at Mr. Grega's trial."
Among the examples of alleged misconduct are Grega's numerous complaints about the way the crime scene was handled, including:
-- "Over the course of several hours, nearly two dozen local police officers, state troopers, EMTs (who remained in the condo long after Christine was removed), and other individuals entered and exited the condo unit without reasonable limits," the lawsuit says.
-- "Doors, door knobs, faucets and surfaces were touched without regard for the forensically destructive consequences of doing so."
-- Some investigators wore gloves, while others did not; no one wore protective booties, Grega claims.
-- No photographs were taken the night of the murder, "thus ensuring that any evidence of a temporary/fleeting nature was lost."
-- Rooms were disturbed, and personal items were moved.
-- "One EMT used the bathroom and flushed the toilet."
-- "The fixtures and drain on the bathtub where Christine was found were fiddled with, even though they were the epicenter of forensic inquiry."
-- No forensic samples were collected from the bathtub or the floor of the downstairs bathroom where Christine Grega was found.
-- "Nothing was done to preserve and collect forensic samples of what appeared to be dried vomit in the shape of a shoe print in the downstairs bathroom."
-- No forensic samples were taken from toilet "despite the fact that it appeared as though it had been recently used."
-- "An empty potato chip bag was tossed into a bundle of the forensically sensitive sheets on which Christine had been carried out to the ambulance."
-- No log was maintained to track who entered the crime scene.
-- The suit also claims that "the most egregious and damaging act of evidence destruction occurred when several EMTs wiped down and cleaned up the area where Christine's body was found and treated before any biological evidence was collected from that area."
Grega goes on to detail complaints about the subsequent investigation and trial, including what he calls a "sham" theory that a beer bottle was used in the assault on Christine Grega.
Even after the emergence of the new DNA evidence and Grega's release in 2012, he claims that investigators "continued to use unconstitutional techniques" in an attempt to convict him again.
"For example, acting under color of law, defendants failed to adequately and reasonably reinvestigate the case against Mr. Grega as any minimally competent law enforcement officer would have; and instead, immediately rushed to reprosecute Mr. Grega for Christine's aggravated murder, even though they lacked probable cause," the suit says. "Defendants even continued to rely on false evidence from the first trial -- false evidence that they should and could have discovered with minimally adequate investigation."
"To this day," Grega's attorneys claim, "the perpetrator remains at large and has gone unpunished for this crime, thereby denying justice to Mrs. Grega's loved ones, including Mr. Grega himself, and possibly allowing the perpetrator to terrorize other victims."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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