FILE - In this July 26, 2012 file photo, John Grega arrives in Windham District Court in Brattleboro, Vt., for a status hearing. Grega, a former New York man in prison for the 1994 murder of his wife, is scheduled to be released from prison on bail Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, after a judge ordered a new trial when newly analyzed DNA evidence raised questions about the case. (AP Photo/Brattleboro Reformer, Zachary P. Stephens, File) MANDATORY CREDIT; ZACHARY P. STEPHENS/BRATTLEBORO REFORMER
BRATTLEBORO — For the second time in a year an aggravated murder charge has been dismissed against a New York man accused of killing his wife while vacationing in Vermont.
Problems with the compatibility of the Vermont Forensic Laboratory with private DNA-testing facilities has led to the dismissal of a murder charge against John Grega, who was accused of killing his wife Christine in a West Dover condominium 19 years ago.
Prosecutors said they reserved the right to refile the murder charge once the issues with the Vermont lab are worked out.
“The family of Christine Grega and the people of the state of Vermont are entitled to a complete and accurate presentation of the evidence in order to determine who killed Mrs. Grega,” Tracy Kelly Shriver, state’s attorney for Windham County, wrote in her notice to the court of her decision to dismiss the murder charge.
Grega won a new trial last year when the New England Innocence Project, armed with a new Vermont law, was able to reopen his case and test 18-year-old evidence, which cast doubt on his conviction.
Grega, 51, of Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island, N.Y., is free without court conditions for the first time since 1994.
“He was obviously profoundly emotional over this,” said Ian Carleton, a Burlington attorney who has worked with Grega for the past 10 years.
He said Grega has always maintained his innocence and since his first murder trial in 1995 has been working to overturn the conviction.
When Grega won a new trial, it was based on the first DNA testing of evidence in the case. The testing showed the presence of an unnamed man — dubbed Mr. X — on two rape-kit swabs taken from his wife’s body. DNA testing was not used in criminal trials in Vermont in the 1990s when Grega was convicted.
The DNA came from the fingertip of the unknown man. DNA from 30 men who were involved in the case — including prosecutors, police officers, emergency medical technicians and doctors — as well as two house painters Grega’s first lawyers accused of the murder and rape — were all ruled out.
Shriver and Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire said Wednesday the murder charges were dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning they could be refiled in the future.
“The Windham County state’s attorney’s office, the attorney general’s office, the Vermont State Police and the Dover Police Department remain committed to continuing this investigation to seek justice for Christine Grega and her family,” Shriver said.
Shriver said Judge John Wesley had set a deadline of Friday for all new DNA testing to be completed and it was clear, because of the problems of compatibility and ability to upload the new DNA information into the federal Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, that she dismissed the charges.
“Given the state of the evidence, identification of the source of the unknown male profile through the CODIS system is essential to that presentation,” Shriver wrote to the court.
CODIS is a large FBI databank of DNA information, and Shriver wrote in her notice of dismissal that in fairness to the victim in the case, she was dismissing the charges.
“Vermont couldn’t take possession from the lab we were going to use, and we tried to find another state to help us, to upload it to CODIS, but they were unable to do it,” she said.
Only state and federal labs can upload into CODIS, she said.
Asked if it was likely she would refile murder charges against Grega, who had spent 18 years in prison before he was released a year ago, Shriver declined to say.
Carleton said he would “vigorously fight” any effort by the state to refile murder charges.
“It is time for the state to abandon this misguided prosecution once and for all, and move on,” he said.
Carleton issued a press release and later discussed the issues.
“The state’s dismissal is long overdue, but it is only the first step in vindicating Mr. Grega’s rights and honoring the memory of his late wife,” he said.
The attorney said Grega has been under court order not to contact his son, who was 2 years old at the time of Christine Grega’s murder 19 years ago.
Wednesday’s action finally changes that, he said, and cancels that order.
Carleton said he was in depositions all day on the Grega case with either Shriver or her deputy, Steven Brown, and was given no hint that the murder charges were being dismissed until Shriver gave him a copy of the filing around 5 p.m.
“It wasn’t a done deal until then,” Shriver said.
Shriver said the Vermont attorney general’s office had handled a lot of the post-conviction relief issues on the Grega case, including the direct appeal, as well as the Innocence Protection Act filings.
In 1995, after a trial in Brattleboro District Court, Grega was sentenced to life without parole.
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