BRATTLEBORO >> The state has agreed to a payout of $1.5 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by now-deceased John Grega, who was imprisoned for 17 years after he was found guilty in 1995 in the murder of his wife in Dover.
"The State was prepared to go to trial, especially in light of the compelling evidence of guilt presented at the criminal trial in 1995 and the fact that the new test results did not conclusively establish Mr. Grega's innocence," stated Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell, in a press release announcing the settlement. "But the settlement for this relatively modest amount compared to the State's arguable exposure to over $20 million in damages under the Innocence Protection Act was deemed to be the most prudent course. This settlement is in no way an admission of wrongdoing by the State and does not diminish the thorough and professional investigation and prosecution of this matter to a guilty verdict 20 years ago."
Grega's estate was represented by Ian P. Carleton, of Sheehey Furlong & Behm P.C. Carleton said he was disappointed by the Attorney General's characterization of the settlement in his press release.
"The Attorney General doesn't pay more than $15 million to guilty people, so to suggest that this settlement is indicative of anything other than total exoneration is questionable."
In 2011, Grega was released from prison following a DNA test of evidence taken from Christine Grega's body revealed the presence of an un-identified man. In 2015, Grega died in a car crash in his hometown on Long Island. After his death, Grega's brother, Jeff Grega, took over the lawsuit as executor/plaintiff.
Following Grega's release, the state vacated his conviction and recommended a retrial, but in 2013, the state withdrew charges to allow for more testing and investigation. Grega filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him with prejudice, but the court denied that request. Before the state could issue a decision on whether to re-charge Grega, he died.
The lawsuit was set to go to trial in June.
In August 2015, a federal charge dismissed the town of Dover from the suit, as well as several claims against former State's Attorney Dan Davis, and three Vermont State Troopers. However, the judge upheld a claim that Davis and the investigators conspired to fabricate evidence that led to Grega's conviction. The troopers named in the lawsuit included William Pettengill, Glenn Cutting and Richard Holden. The original lawsuit also named the town of Dover and several un-identified police officers who responded to the scene.
All the named defendants were also dismissed in the settlement.
In the press release, the state contested the lawsuit's contention that the DNA test "exonerated" Grega in the murder of his wife.
"These claims had absolutely no basis in either fact or law and justice was served by the Estate's dismissal of this matter with prejudice," stated Sorrell, in the press release. "Indeed, in 2013 a Vermont trial court stated, when denying Mr. Grega's request to dismiss the murder case with prejudice, that the new 'piece of scientific evidence which is not yet explained ... does not exonerate (Mr. Grega) as plainly inconsistent with his guilt.'"
In 1994, the trial court sentenced Grega to life without parole, and the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed Grega's conviction in 1998. Grega served over 17 years and was released from prison after the Windham County State's Attorney moved to dismiss the case until additional testing on the new DNA evidence became available to permit a re-prosecution.
"The family of John Grega is glad to announce that the state of Vermont has agreed to pay a settlement of $1.55 million to resolve its claims for John's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for nearly 18 years," noted Carleton in an email to the Reformer. "While nothing will make up for the suffering that John and his family endured, this settlement speaks loudly and clearly that John is, and always has been, innocent."
Carleton wrote that while Grega, his wife and their 2-year-old child were vacationing in southern Vermont in 1994, Christine was tragically and brutally murdered. "As the result of a shoddy and incompetent investigation and subsequent rush to judgment, John was wrongfully convicted for his wife's murder. After many years in prison, John successfully petitioned for testing of DNA evidence collected at the crime scene. John was excluded as the source of that DNA. On Aug. 22, 2012, John walked out of prison after 17 years, eight months, and one day of unjustified, and unjustifiable, imprisonment."
Dan Davis, when reached for comment by the Reformer, declined to comment on the settlement. When the lawsuit was originally filed, Davis told the Reformer.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.