In a 14-count suit filed in federal court last week,
Grega and his attorneys accuse former Windham County State’s Attorney Dan Davis and former Vermont State Police Detective William Pettengill of failing to adequately investigate the murder, destroying exculpatory evidence, falsifying evidence, failing to disclose false evidence, conspiracy, and false imprisonment.
Pettengill, specifically, is accused of malicious prosecution. Davis is also accused of slander stemming from published remarks made after Grega’s 2012 release.
Former state police detective Glen Cutting, Pettengill, and the town of Dover are accused negligence and violating Grega’s right to due process by failing to adequately train and supervise personnel at the crime scene or involved in the investigation.
State police detective Richard Holden is accused of malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. Pettengill, Davis, and Holden are accused of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Grega served almost 18 years in prison before he was released in August 2012, after DNA testing indicated the presence of another man’s DNA in a swab taken from Christine Grega’s body. Windham Superior Court Judge John Wesley vacated Grega’s conviction in August 2012, and ordered a new trial. Grega was released on $75,000 bail and conditions. A year later, Windham County State’s Attorney Tracey Shriver dropped the charges against Grega, but said that new charges could be brought against Grega in the future. Shriver vowed to continue the investigation into the case and to seek justice for Christine Grega.
In his case filed last week in U.S. District Court, Grega claims his wrongful conviction “was no accident, but rather the result of unconstitutional and tortious acts by the defendants to this lawsuit.” Grega charges that the defendants named in the suit “manufactured evidence, destroyed evidence, failed to follow basic crime scene investigation procedures, failed to investigate obvious leads that contradicted their narrrow-minded focus on Grega, failed to investigate other evidence that suggested Grega’s innocence, and deliberately presented false evidence to jurors at Grega’s trial.”
Christine Grega’s murder
Contrary to the description of circumstances presented by prosecutors in the 1995 trial suggesting that the Gregas’ trip to a West Dover condominium of a family friend was a last ditch attempt to save a failing marriage, Grega says the trip was an “early second honeymoon to celebrate their approaching 10th wedding anniversary.” At the time, according to Grega, the couple were planning to conceive a second child, and were in the process of buying a home.
On the day Christine Grega was murdered, the couple and their son visited Santa’s Land in Putney. After spending time in the condo later that day, Grega says he took his son out to give his wife time to relax. He returned later to find his wife unresponsive in a partially-filled bathtub. With no phone in the condo, Grega rushed to a neighboring unit to place the call. Police arrived at 8:36 pm.
What followed, according to the suit, was a series of blunders. The Dover officer who initially arrived on the scene “looked at Christine (Grega’s) pallid blue color, concluded ‘there was no sense in trying resuscitation,’ and called dispatch to inform them there was a fatality.” But when the first EMT arrived on the scene about five minutes later and checked Christine Grega’s vital signs, he “thought he felt a pulse, so he instructed the first Dover officer to help him start CPR.” According to Grega’s suit, the EMT “apparently became flustered” when he couldn’t establish an airway and “for reasons that remain unclear, the first EMT stopped attempting CPR relatively quickly and just stood there waiting for the Deerfield Valley Rescue ambulance to arrive.” When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, the senior EMT “was shocked to see no CPR being performed” and ordered CPR be started again.
Christine Grega was loaded into an ambulance which headed south on Route 100 en route to a hospital. It was intercepted by the regional medical examiner at 8:52. When further life-saving efforts proved unsuccessful, the medical examiner pronounced Christine Grega dead at 9:10 pm.
The crime scene
Grega’s suit alleges that evidence which would have led to the real perpetrator or perpetrators and exculpated Grega was destroyed or simply not collected in the investigation that followed. Citing testimony at trial, the suit notes that, although police officers immediately recognized the condominium as a potential crime scene, no officers took steps to control entry into the area. Pettengill is singled out as having failed to “take routine steps to ensure that evidence was preserved.” Although the contents of an upstairs refrigerator would later be presented as key evidence in the prosecution’s theory of Christine Grega’s death, only the downstairs of the condominium was eventually designated as a crime scene on the evening of the incident. Later, a Dover Police detective testified that “if there was evidence of the crime upstairs, it was not collected because the investigators did not consider it to be part of the crime scene.”
The suit also lists more than a dozen other investigative blunders including inconsistent use of gloves by investigators; a failure to photograph the scene; and a failure to collect forensic samples from the drains, toilet, and dried vomit in the bathroom.
According to Grega’s suit, the one of the most shocking errors made on the night of Christine Grega’s death was the destruction of evidence by EMTs. “Several EMTs wiped down and cleaned up the area where Christine (Grega’s) body was found and treated before any biological evidence was collected from that area.” EMTs also cleaned a pool of blood on equipment they had used. In the suit, Grega says police watched the cleanup, and failed to prevent it.
The Long Trail Ale bottle
An autopsy would show that Christine Grega suffered a brutal and violent death, with trauma and injuries all over her body. The medical examiner said there were severe injuries to her vaginal and rectal areas. The rectal injuries were so severe, according the state’s medical expert at Grega’s trial, that they were likely caused by an object such as a fist, pipe or bat.
The suit claims investigators “never attempted to locate and never actually identified the object used to cause Christine (Grega’s) injuries.” But during Grega’s 1995 trial, Davis introduced a photograph of the contents of the condominium refrigerator located on the upper floor – the floor that hadn’t been considered a crime scene and had been unmonitored. Questioning Pettengill, Davis drew his attention to a bottle of Long Trail Ale that had been removed from a full sixpack, also in the refrigerator. Pettengill agreed that the photo showed the contents of the refrigerator as he saw them on September 19, 1994. In his closing remarks, Davis suggested that the bottle was out of it’s sixpack holder because Grega had used it to assault his wife.
Grega’s attorneys call the theory a sham, and charge that Davis and Pettengill conspired to “manufacture” the the bottle evidence. During a 2013 deposition of Holden, the detective in charge of collecting evidence in the kitchen in 1994, he said the six pack had been full when he looked in the refrigerator on September 13, the evening of Christine Grega’s murder. When questioned further, he said that he had been the one who pulled the bottle out of the six pack. “I pulled the one bottle out, as I recall, which I would – something I would normally do, and take a picture to show that it was Long Trail.”
In the suit, Grega and his attorneys say Davis, with the help of Pettengill “and perhaps others” used a “staged” photograph to advance a false theory of the assault. Other defendants in the suit failed to disclose the fact that the photograph had been staged, the suite charges.
The suit also lists what the plaintiff calls other wrongful conduct that led to Grega’s false conviction and imprisonment. In Grega’s first trial, the defense pointed the finger at two workers who had been painting the building that included the unit in which the Gregas had been staying. In the suit, Grega and his attorneys claim that, not only was one of the two men connected to the scene through a piece of a cigarette carton found in the toilet, but the same man had a history of assault, had burglarized another condominium in the same complex, and lied to the police when questioned in connection to the murder. They also claim the he confessed to being involved in the murder to his girlfriend. When she was deposed, she denied having any incriminating information, but her attorney said she was terrified, and had “suffered physical and sexual abuse” at his hands.
When subpoenaed to testify at Grega’s trial, she asserted her Fifth Amendment right. Her attorney explained that her testimony would be inconsistent with her statements at her deposition, leaving her vulnerable to a charge of perjury. The suit alleges Davis “refused to grant immunity” to the girlfriend, preventing her from telling the jury about her boyfriend’s confession to the murder.
Botched DNA testing “a mess”
Grega and his attorneys say the alleged subversion of justice continued after his conviction, charging that the DNA which eventually led to his release could have done more – proven his innocence – if it hadn’t been mishandled and later destroyed by the state. The DNA was tested after a two-year court battle to have the sample tested under a 2008 law that allows people convicted of certain crimes to petition the court for testing. In the suit, Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver is quoted as saying that if the DNA was from an unknown man’s sperm, Grega wouldn’t be reprosecuted. However, the results of the test only revealed the presence of DNA from an unknown man’s skin cells – enough to overturn Grega’s conviction, but not enough to prevent prosecutors from reprosecuting Grega.
The sample to be tested was a rectal swab from Christine Grega’s body. Grega’s attorneys say sperm was known to be present on the swab, according to testimony and reports from two state medical examiners at Grega’s 1995 trial. But according to Grega’s suit, the state assistant attorney general who was investigating Grega’s post-conviction DNA testing told the laboratory that the sample contained no seminal fluid. “As a direct result, (the laboratory) did not test the swab for sperm cells. (The laboratory) then discarded the extract that may have contained those sperm cells based on the state’s misstatements of fact.”
In emails quoted by Grega and his attorneys, Shriver and Dr. Eric Buel, director of the Vermont Crime Laboratory referred to the situation as “a mess.”
Grega and his attorneys also charged that the state failed again, after his 2012 release, to pursue leads pointing to other suspects in the case. Instead, they say, the state focused on testing DNA of men who may have come into contact with Christine Grega’s body or the sample after her death under the theory that their DNA was transferred to the sample. No matching sample was found, and Shriver eventually dropped all charges against Grega.
The defendants in the case haven’t filed answers to the charges with the court. Grega has requested that the case be heard by a jury.