Grega request for state funding for private attorney rejectedLEN EMERY PHOTO
Attorney Ian Carleton, left, appears Tuesday in criminal court in Brattleboro with John Grega, whose murder conviction was overturned last month based on new DNA evidence.
BRATTLEBORO — The lawyer who helped free convicted murderer John Grega from prison and win him a new trial based on new DNA evidence won’t be representing him in the future.
Judge John Wesley on Tuesday rejected a request from Grega to appoint his attorney Ian Carleton to continue to represent him, at the state’s expense.
“I’m not going to start creating special cases,” the judge said, saying the Vermont defender general would appoint a lawyer to represent him.
Grega was convicted in 1995 of the rape and murder of his wife Christine at a West Dover condominium in 1994. But new evidence, in the form of new DNA analysis that revealed DNA belonging to another man in his wife’s body, helped win him a new trial last month under Vermont’s 2008 “innocence project” law. DNA analysis was not available during Grega’s first trial.
Grega, 50, now of Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., wrote an unusual three-page letter to the judge, and said while he was entitled to a court-appointed attorney, he knew he wasn’t entitled to pick his lawyer under the Sixth Amendment.
But Grega said Carleton had detailed knowledge of his case and that Grega trusted him, unlike other lawyers who have worked on his case, most recently the Vermont defender general’s office.
Carleton, who has been working on Grega’s federal civil rights case since 2004, told the judge he could not continue to represent Grega “pro bono” in the future and thus had not filed a notice of appearance. Carleton said he had received a small amount — possibly $7,000 — for the federal case, but nothing since.
Carleton asked to be appointed Grega’s “ad hoc counsel,” citing the “special circumstances” surrounding the Grega case.
According to Grega’s letter, he has no money or resources after 18 years in prison, and his family is equally tapped out after posting his $75,000 bail.
While his family hired two private attorneys to present him in 1995, the money is not available now, he said. Back then, Grega wrote, his parents mortgaged their home and “spared no expense that I had meaningful representation.”
But since then, his father has died and his mother, 72, was recently hospitalized, Grega said.
Grega also wrote that his own health since getting out of prison three weeks ago was not great, and that he said working with a new lawyer, rather than Carleton, would be physically and mentally exhausting.
“Mr. Carleton brings to this case a level of understanding of my case that not only makes him the most sensible attorney to represent me, but also the one who can do so most efficiently cost effectively,” he wrote.
But Wesley told Grega and Carleton it wasn’t within his power to appoint Carleton, a Burlington attorney, to handle the new first-degree murder case.
Windham County State’s attorney Tracy Kelly Shriver said she objected to any special treatment for Grega.
The judge pointed out that the Defender General’s office has a group of experienced trial attorneys to handle serious felony cases such as Grega’s.
Grega, in the three-page letter to the judge sent last week, had criticized the Defender General’s office, claiming they had violated his trust on a number of issues and that represented a conflict of interest in representing him in the future.
In the letter, Grega said that the Defender General’s office had contacted members of his family to pressure him to accept his original “false” conviction in exchange for a deal with state prosecutors to get out of jail.
“This made it seem like all they were interested in was trying to resolve my case as quickly and easily as possible,” Grega wrote the judge. “These communications, in addition to being outside the attorney-client privilege, were unacceptable on a personal level.”
The judge, while saying he wasn’t sure that Grega’s complaints rose to the level of a professional conflict, said that the lawyers who handle the serious felony cases were actually independent contractors, and didn’t take their orders from the Defender General’s office.
After the court hearing, Carleton, Grega and members of Grega’s family, including his mother, sister and brother went into a private conference room to discuss the situation. Afterwards, Grega walked to the clerk’s office and filed an application for a public defender.
In the application, Grega said he had no income or assets, and that he was receiving public assistance.
Defender General Matt Valerio said after the hearing that he was unaware that any member of his office had done such a thing, and said he hadn’t seen Grega’s letter and couldn’t respond in detail.
Valerio said that if Grega does apply for a public defender, he will appoint one of the six independent law firms under contract with his office to handle such cases.
Valerio said that while Carleton “did a great job” on the earlier legal issues, he was not an experienced criminal defense attorney and had never handled a murder case before, something Carleton admitted outside of court.
Plus, Valerio said, the state already had experienced criminal defense attorneys on retainer to do that work.
“They have handled scores and dozens of homicides and life-in-prison cases,” he said.
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