John Grega sues Vermont investigators in his wife's murder

John Grega enjoys a cool summer night in

John Grega enjoys a cool summer night in Lake Ronkokoma New York on August 21, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday/Ana Maria Rico

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John Grega, the Lake Ronkonkoma man who served 18 years in prison for his wife's murder before new DNA evidence led a judge to throw out the conviction, has sued the Vermont authorities who investigated his case.

The federal suit filed July 14 in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro, Vermont, says retired Vermont state police detectives William Pettengill and Glenn Cutting, along with former Windham County state's attorney Dan Davis, violated Grega's civil rights by knowingly using "false evidence" and slipshod investigative tactics to win a guilty verdict in 1995.

Grega, 51, a former NASA contract engineer, was convicted less than a year after his wife, Christine, was found strangled and sexually assaulted on Sept. 12, 1994, in the West Dover, Vermont, condominium where the couple was vacationing with their young son.

He 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.

"Mr. Grega's wrongful conviction was no accident, but rather the result of unconstitutional and tortious acts by the defendants," Grega's attorney, Ian Carleton, wrote in the suit.

Authorities "manufactured evidence, destroyed evidence; failed to follow basic crime-scene investigation procedures; failed to investigate obvious leads that contradicted their narrow-minded focus on Mr. Grega and failed to take into account other evidence that suggested Mr. Grega's innocence," the suit says.

The suit does not specify a claim for monetary damages.

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Prosecutors at Grega's original trial relied exclusively on circumstantial evidence and his own statements to police, which included conflicting accounts and admissions that some of his wife's injuries were caused by rough sex some time earlier.

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 several appeals.

Current Windham County state's attorney Tracy Shriver filed new charges against Grega last year but dropped them because of difficulties with testing old DNA evidence.

State police Det. Richard Holden and the town of Dover, whose officers were first at the scene, are also named as defendants in the suit.

None of the defendants could immediately be reached for comment Saturday.

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