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Man Pleads Not Guilty In ’94 Vt. Death of Wife

John Grega, right,  and his brother Jeff Grega wait outside Brattleboro Superior court  In Brattleboro, Vt., Thursday, May 16, 2013. The suburban New York man, released from a life sentence after DNA tests cast doubt on his original conviction for killing his wife in Vermont, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a new aggravated murder charge in the same case. Fifty-year-old John Grega entered the plea in response to a new charge in the 1994 death of his wife Christine while they were vacationing at a condominium in Dover. (AP Photo/Rutland Herald, Len Emery)

John Grega, right, and his brother Jeff Grega wait outside Brattleboro Superior court In Brattleboro, Vt., Thursday, May 16, 2013. The suburban New York man, released from a life sentence after DNA tests cast doubt on his original conviction for killing his wife in Vermont, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a new aggravated murder charge in the same case. Fifty-year-old John Grega entered the plea in response to a new charge in the 1994 death of his wife Christine while they were vacationing at a condominium in Dover. (AP Photo/Rutland Herald, Len Emery)

Brattleboro, Vt. — A suburban New York man released from a life sentence after DNA tests casts doubt on his original conviction for killing his wife in Vermont pleaded not guilty yesterday to a new aggravated murder charge in the same case.

Fifty-year-old John Grega entered the plea in response to a new charge in the 1994 death of his wife Christine while they were vacationing at a condominium in Dover.

Grega has maintained his innocence through his more than 18 years in prison, and a new analysis of DNA evidence taken from Christine Grega’s body, made known last year, showed it was not from Grega, but from another, unknown male.

In a brief interview before yesterday’s hearing, Grega said he was grateful to the Innocence Project, a national group that has used newly analyzed DNA evidence to win reversals of murder convictions around the country.

Grega has been released on conditions since last year. Yesterday, Judge John Wesley of the Windham Superior Court’s criminal division agreed to reduce Grega’s telephone check-ins with authorities in Vermont from the daily to once a week.

In court filings in recent months, the state has put forward the theory that the DNA came from an object Grega inserted into his wife’s rectum. During closing arguments in Grega’s 1994 trial, the state implied the object may have been a beer bottle, according to court papers. In recent court filings, Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Kelly Shriver has stopped short of saying what the object was.

Wesley yesterday put off ruling on two key facets of the case: setting new deadlines for the state to produce its evidence and inform the defense on what it will be; and a motion to dismiss the charge from Carleton.

The defense lawyer argues that the state has been so vague about its evidence to date that it can’t support the charge of aggravated murder. Aggravated murder carries a sentence of life without parole; one factor that can make a murder aggravated under the law is if it came in conjunction with a sexual assault. First-degree murder without the aggravating factors can carry a sentence of 35 years to life.

Carleton argued in court yesterday that the state had not met the demands placed on it by Wesley when the judge issued an order in March.

In that March 25 order, the judge wrote, “If the state will claim that a beer bottle was used to rape the victim, Defendant is entitled to notice of that claim as part of the charging documents, particularly if, as it has previously hypothesized, the state plans to posit that the bottle was the source of the otherwise unexplained DNA.”

If the state has some other theory of the case, it must detail that as well, the judge added.

Carleton filed his motion to dismiss May 8, arguing that the state had not met the judge’s demands.

In court yesterday, the two sides argued over how much longer the court should be given, and Wesley indicated that when he issues his scheduling order, the state is likely to be given three more months.

Shriver told the judge the recent death of a staff member at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory had slowed down crime lab processing of evidence. She said the lab was likely going to have to contract with an out-of-state crime lab to process DNA evidence into a form that could be uploaded to a national DNA database operated by the FBI.