Grega appeared to be in good spirits at a status conference Thursday morning, smiling and greeting family members who were present. On Tuesday, Burlington attorney Ian Carleton and Dawn Mathews of the state defender general’s prisoners’ rights office filed a petition asking the court to overturn Grega’s 1995 conviction or grant a new trial. The petition was based on new DNA analysis that identified an unknown male as a major contributor to a swab taken from the victim, Grega’s wife Christine Grega. (See story, page one.)
Windham Superior Court Judge John Wesley thanked attorneys for meeting on short notice, noting that the state’s Innocence Protection Act under which Grega filed his motion requires an expeditious process. Noting that Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver hadn’t had sufficient time to prepare a written answer to Grega’s petition, Wesley asked her whether the state would oppose the petition or join the defense in calling for a new trial.
Shriver told Wesley that the state required more time to complete an ongoing investigation of the new analysis. “At this point, the state will oppose the petition,” Shriver said. “I have laid out the steps I still wish to take. But there may come a time when we would join in a motion for a new trial.”
When pressed for details, Shriver said she was “reluctant to reveal steps in an ongoing murder investigation,” but indicated that some of the investigation pertained to DNA from other individuals that may have come in contact with Christine Grega’s body.
Testing already completed has ruled out a number of individuals who had primary contact with the victim as contributors to the tested DNA sample, as well as two other possible suspects in the case. Shriver indicated that the new testing, already underway, focused on a second tier of individuals that had contact with the body. “I have a list of 12 other people I need to compare (the DNA results) to,” she said. “Four of the 12 are outstanding, the rest have been sent to the lab.”
Shriver said there was also other evidence that the state would test, including a second DNA sample taken from Christine Grega’s body at the same time as the one that was tested in May. “The murder investigation by the state police and Dover police is still ongoing,” Shriver said.
“So, there’s a need for additional investigation,” Wesley summed up. “What’s your best assessment of the length of time you’re seeking?”
“My request would be 60 days,” Shriver said.
Carleton, Grega’s attorney, argued against the state’s request for additional time for investigation, noting that Grega had already waited almost two months in filing his petition, expecting that the new analysis would prompt the state to join in a motion for a new trial. Carleton said the additional information the state sought through its investigation would not remove the doubt that has been cast on Grega’s conviction. “None of the testing that the state wants to do would undercut the undisputed DNA results that show unknown male DNA was found in the body of the victim,” Carleton said. “It’s the scientific fact that drives this proceeding.”
Wesley asked Carleton if he expected a need for “significant evidentiary proceedings” at the hearing, such as expert witness testimony. Carleton responded that it would depend on what the state’s response to Grega’s motion will be, but he noted that it appeared the state and the defense would be able to stipulate as to the lab results. “I think I understand the theory that the state is going to advance, and we’ll call experts to refute that testimony.”
Shriver indicated that she would call experts from the state lab to testify about the “majority and minority” contributors to a DNA sample, and what it could mean. Additionally, she said, there would be testimony about the difference between semen DNA and epithelial (skin) DNA. The DNA of the “unknown male” contributor to the sample tested in the case was found to be from skin.
Shriver said that the state’s theory of the crime hadn’t changed, indicating that the state will argue that the “unknown male” contribution to the DNA sample was either due to contamination or that it was already present on an object used to sodomize Christine Grega. Testimony during the trial suggested an object “larger than a normal penis” was used in the attack, but no such object was identified or produced.
If any of the 12 individuals she wishes to test match the tested DNA, Shriver said, it would indicate that the sample had been contaminated. But Carleton called any theory that DNA from rescue workers or investigators could “find its way into” Christine Grega’s rectum “unbelievable.”
“We agreed to the people who have already been tested, and now the state wants to go to a secondary ring of people,” Carleton said. “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. John (Grega) needs to be set free now, or a new trial established.”
Wesley agreed, at least in part, calling the state’s stance “speculative,” and asking attorneys for an estimate of how long the hearing might take. “At this point, I’m disinclined to grant the state further investigatory time,” he said. If there are any aspects that bear on the merits of this motion, I’m sure you’ll (Shriver) let the court know.”
After listening to attorneys discuss how they may proceed, and the number and type of witnesses to be called, Wesley suggested the hearing could take a full day. “We want to make sure we don’t get halfway there and have to finish another day,” he said. “I’ll try to find a day to hold a hearing as soon as practicable.” Wesley also told Shriver that “It’s not likely the court will entertain further requests to continue based on the state’s ongoing attempts to investigate.”
Carleton asked Wesley about the possibility of setting conditions of Grega’s release, but Wesley interrupted. “I don’t consider that issue properly framed for this proceeding. If you believe that’s appropriate, file a motion for a separate hearing.”
Carleton indicated he would file such a motion.