In her answer to the motion, Shriver lays out the circumstances of Christine Grega’s murder, and the evidence against John Grega that led to his arrest and eventual conviction for the crime. She argues that the new evidence doesn’t warrant the step of vacating the conviction or a new trial.
Last week, Grega and his attorneys appeared at a status conference in Windham Superior Court two days after filing their motion, which was based on new DNA evidence developed under the state’s Innocence Protection Act.
Using techniques not available at the time of his conviction in 1995, a testing facility identified unknown male DNA in a swab taken from Christine Grega’s body. Grega and his attorneys maintain that the DNA points to a different killer, and to Grega’s innocence.
At last week’s status conference, Judge John Wesley denied Shriver’s request for more time to complete a police investigation of the matter, and for testing of additional people that may have had secondary contact with Christine Grega’s body. While opposing the state’s request for additional time, Grega’s attorney Ian Carleton said testing that had already been carried out on people that had primary contact with Christine Grega’s body helped bolster his assertion that the DNA was left by an unknown assailant. “The evidence for Grega’s innocence is stronger now than it was before, and it’s not appropriate to delay so the state can grasp at straws,” said Carleton. “John (Grega) needs to be set free now, or a new trial established.”
Grega’s case is the first to be brought under Vermont’s Innocence Protection Act, and both Shriver’s and Grega’s attorneys turned to case law from other states. Citing a case in Washington, Shriver says that the court must decide whether the new evidence, had it been presented at the original trial, would have changed the outcome. She argues that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. “The circumstantial case presented by the state in (Grega’s) trial was overwhelming,” Shriver wrote. “The forensic evidence was almost entirely inconclusive. The state’s presentation and argument was limited to those facts gathered by the investigation.”
Shriver noted that, in an earlier appeal of Grega’s conviction, the Vermont Supreme Court found that “Taken together, the state’s evidence clearly identified (Grega) as the man responsible for his wife’s death.”
But in their motion last week, Grega’s attorneys argued that the new evidence, if it had been introduced at the 1995 trial, would have raised sufficient doubt in the minds of jurors for acquittal. “Under the reasonable doubt standard, this new DNA evidence – which was never presented to the jury and therefore was never considered in deliberations – would not have just slightly, but vastly increased the likelihood of acquittal or a hung jury in the original trial. Had this new information been part of the evidence at trial, the state would have had to explain to the jury how unknown male DNA got inside the victim’s anal cavity.”
Shriver also argues that the swab that was recently tested wasn’t used during the original trial, nor did the state “assertively or repetitively” emphasize DNA evidence at the trial. But at Grega’s 1995 trial, his attorneys presented a theory that two painters who had been working at the Dover condominium complex where the Gregas were staying had murdered Christine Grega. But the two men voluntarily submitted to DNA testing after the new analysis of the swab. Neither of the two men was a match. “Thus, while the new DNA evidence may undermine the theory of the case (Grega) presented to the jury, the state’s theory remains unscathed,” Shriver wrote.
At trial, the state’s theory of some injuries Christine Grega sustained was that they were the result of her being violently sodomized with a bottle. Grega had been seen on security footage purchasing Long Trail Ale at a local convenience store. Shriver suggests the unknown male DNA in the swab taken from Christine Grega’s body could have been the result of transfer from the bottle. “The scientific evidence relied upon here cannot, alone, overcome the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that John Grega is the person responsible for his wife’s murder.”
At last week’s status conference, Grega’s attorney Ian Carleton called any theory that DNA from rescue workers or investigators could “find its way into” Christine Grega’s rectum “unbelievable.”
Shriver concludes that Grega’s motion to vacate or set a new trial should be denied because the new evidence doesn’t impact the state’s original theory, “nor does it demonstrate with any certainty that an unknown person committed any acts of violence against Christine Grega.”
Judge John Wesley has agreed to a daylong hearing to determine whether to vacate Grega’s conviction, order a new trial, or deny Grega’s motion.
The date of the hearing hasn’t been set.