Grega sues State Police detectives, state’s attorney
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | July 16,2014
John Grega appears in Windham District Court in Brattleboro, Vt., Thursday, July 26, 2012, for a status hearing. Lawyers for a Grega, a former New York man in prison for the 1994 murder of his wife, say new analysis of DNA evidence points strongly to his innocence. The state defender general's office and a private Burlington lawyer filed court papers on Tuesday asking that John Grega, 50, be set free or at least be given a new trial. (AP Photo/Brattleboro Reformer, Zachary P. Stephens)
BRATTLEBORO — John Grega, a New York man who spent close to 18 years in prison for the West Dover murder and rape of his wife, has sued three Vermont State Police detectives, the town of Dover and the county prosecutor who convicted him in 1995.
Grega, 51, won the right to a new trial in 2012 after modern DNA testing revealed the presence of another man’s DNA in the rape kit for Christine Grega. New murder charges were dropped last August.
In a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Grega alleges that retired state police detectives William Pettengill and Glenn Cutting, current Detective Richard Holden and retired state’s attorney Dan M. Davis, as well as the town of Dover, conspired to convict him with false, trumped-up evidence involving a Long Trail Ale bottle and poor police work.
“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,” the suit states.
Grega, who ran a window-washing business with his family, and his wife, a physician’s assistant, were on vacation in West Dover in September 1994 with their 2-year-old son, John Jr.
Christine Grega had reportedly told friends and family they were trying to salvage a marriage troubled by alcohol and drug use. During the vacation, Christine was found dead in the ski condo’s bathtub.
She had been brutally raped with what appeared to be a foreign object and choked to death, evidence showed.
John Grega had taken their young son out for the afternoon, to give his wife some private time, the suit said. When he returned, he found his wife, seemingly dead, in the ground floor bathroom.
The recent lawsuit painted a very different picture than that portrayed in the 1995 trial. The Gregas had gone to the West Dover condominium, owned by a business friend, as a “second honeymoon,” the suit said.
Pettengill, a Guilford resident, is currently a member of the Vermont Parole Board, while Cutting retired a few years ago from a second career as police chief in his hometown of Hartford. Davis is now in private practice in Brattleboro.
The police and prosecutor “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 and failed to take into account other evidence that suggested Mr. Grega’s innocence,” Ian Carleton, Grega’s attorney, wrote in the lawsuit.
The police officers and prosecutor “deliberately presented false evidence to jurors at Mr. Grega’s trial,” the suit states.
It was a 2008 state law, called the Innocence Protection Act, that set the stage for Grega’s freedom. It allowed for the DNA testing of evidence from Grega’s original trial. DNA testing was not common at that time. The test results from a sample taken from Christine Grega’s body revealed another man’s DNA.
Holden, who inherited the case in 2012, was part of the “malicious re-prosecution” by the state, Carleton wrote.
Holden worked with the current state’s attorney, Tracy Shriver, on a new theory of the case, which relied on the theory that the beer bottle transferred the mystery man’s DNA to Christine Grega’s body.
Such a theory, Carleton wrote, had no basis in “scientific or factual support.”
“To this day, 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,” the suit concludes.
Grega has always maintained his innocence, and while represented during his 1995 trial by both a local and New York attorney, became somewhat of a jailhouse lawyer, filing numerous legal challenges over the years.
Grega continues to suffer physically and mentally as a result of his incarceration, the suit states. He has been unable to establish a relationship with his son, a recent college graduate.
Grega is living in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., a community on Long Island.
“Throughout his time in prison, Mr. Grega suffered from debilitating nightmares and feelings of despair and isolation,” the suit said.
Last year Shriver, who had filed new, aggravated murder charges after the first conviction was thrown out, dropped new murder charges against Grega, citing DNA testing problems on the remaining 1994 evidence.
She reserved the right to refile the charges once those testing problems were resolved, but to date no charges have been filed.
Shriver declined to comment on the Grega case, referring questions to the Vermont attorney general’s office.
The suit alleges that Dover police, who were first on the scene, failed to follow basic police and crime scene protocol and failed to protect evidence that may have exonerated Grega. No specific Dover officer was named in the suit.
And despite her office being accused of a “malicious re-prosecution” of Grega, Shriver and her office were also not named in the suit.
The 52-page lawsuit, which doesn’t seek specific monetary damages but asks for a jury trial, hints that additional people will be sued.
John Rose, an assistant Vermont attorney general, said the state expects to be sued in state court.
“We haven’t been served with anything yet, so we can’t comment on anything yet,” he said Tuesday.
The attorney general’s office will represent the three state police detectives as well as Davis.
Carleton, the Burlington attorney who has represented Grega for the past 10 years and was instrumental in winning Grega his freedom two years ago, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.