Grega's first day free: cigar and a swim

John Grega reunites with friends and relatives at John Grega reunites with friends and relatives at his mother's Lake Ronkonkoma home after new DNA evidence led a judge to throw out his conviction and order a new trial. Grega served 18 years in a Vermont prison in connection with the murder of his wife. (Aug. 23, 2012)

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On his first morning of freedom in 18 years, John Grega lit a cigar, watched the sunrise and went for a swim in his mother's backyard pool in Lake Ronkonkoma.

"I've dreamed about this day for so long," Grega said Thursday. "I'm finally home."

Grega, 50, who was serving a life sentence without parole for his wife's rape and murder in 1994, was released on bail from a Vermont prison Wednesday -- a day after new DNA evidence led a judge to throw out his conviction and order a new trial. A date has not been set.

The former NASA subcontractor, who once did design and engineering work for space station projects, wasted no time in savoring his freedom. He feasted on lobster and prime rib at a Vermont restaurant, then snacked on peanut M&M's during the drive home.

He slept about two hours in his mother's home and awoke at 5 a.m. Thursday to go for a run -- just like he did in prison. Only this time, he could run wherever he wanted.

"I just ran and thought about my family and everyone else who made this possible," Grega said.

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Grega was convicted less than a year after his wife, Christine Grega, 31, was found dead in a bathroom at the West Dover, Vt., condominium where the couple was vacationing with their 2-year-old son on Sept. 12, 1994.

But DNA tests conducted in May by Vermont's state crime lab cast doubt upon Grega's conviction. The sample taken from inside his wife's body showed it was from an unknown man -- not John Grega.

"When I heard the result, my knees buckled and I was in tears," Grega said.

Family of Christine Grega could not be reached, nor could John Grega's son.

Grega's brother, Jeff, 47, recalled wishing his brother farewell before he left for Vermont in 1994.

"He left for a weekend vacation and he never came home," Jeff Grega said. "Now I have my best friend again."

A St. John's University graduate, Grega served as the prison law librarian, working on fellow inmates' cases as well as his own.

"I knew in my heart it wasn't my destiny to die there," he said.

Grega also visited the grave of his father, who died while he was in prison, as well as the grave of his wife. After that, he planned to get a new driver's license and go see the ocean.