Prosecutors Wednesday dismissed an aggravated murder charge against a Lake Ronkonkoma man accused of killing his wife in Vermont nearly 20 years ago.
John Grega, 50, a former NASA contract engineer, was convicted less than a year after his wife was found strangled and sexually assaulted on Sept. 12, 1994, in the West Dover, Vt., condominium where the couple was vacationing with their young son.
Grega served 18 years in prison but was released in August 2012 when new DNA evidence -- skin cells from an unknown man found inside the victim's body -- led a Vermont judge to overturn the conviction.
Prosecutors had refused to drop the case, instead filing a new aggravated murder charge in advance of a scheduled retrial.
With a court-imposed Friday deadline looming for testing of other DNA evidence in the case, prosecutors abruptly altered course, dropping the charge.
A joint notice of dismissal was filed Wednesday by the Vermont attorney general's office and Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver.
"I'm blown away," Grega told Newsday from his Lake Ronkonkoma home. "Imagine, after 20 years, seeing them dismiss a case against you for a crime you didn't commit. I don't even know how to feel."
He said the decision would allow him to stay home and care for his mother, Marion, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Grega's defense team called the decision "long overdue."
"Today, the state of Vermont dismissed all charges against John Grega, finally conceding that it has no basis on which to charge him with the death of his wife, Christine," his lawyers said in a statement Wednesday night.
Prosecutors at Grega's original trial relied exclusively on circumstantial evidence and his own statements to police that included conflicting accounts and admissions that some of his wife's injuries were caused by rough sex they had before her death, authorities said.
No eyewitness testimony or physical evidence linking Grega to the crime was presented at trial. But the lack of forced entry, Grega's uncorroborated alibi that he was with his son at a playground at the time of Christine Grega's death and clothes found soaking in the washing machine when police arrived were enough to win a conviction that survived multiple appeals.
In May, Windham County Superior Court Judge John Wesley gave prosecutors planning to retry Grega a three-month deadline to complete new DNA testing of crime scene evidence other than the skin cells.
Shriver and Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire said in a statement that they "remain committed to continuing this investigation to seek justice for Christine Grega and her family."
Grega's lawyers said: "Although the state maintains that it may still, some day far in the future, recharge Mr. Grega, the defense will vigorously fight any such effort."
"I went through hell," Grega said. "To get them to admit it was a mistake. It feels fabulous."
With Ellen Yan and AP