Attorneys are scrambling to track down more than 300 witnesses involved in a Lake Ronkonkoma man's Vermont murder trial nearly two decades ago, including Long Island residents who say they remember little about the 1994 killing.
Some of the 347 potential witnesses in John Grega's upcoming retrial are dead. Others have left the country. And a few already located say they can't recall much about the crime.
But none of that has stopped lawyers on both sides from trying to jog memories.
"It's a challenge to find the people we need to talk to," said Ian Carleton, Grega's lead attorney. "But it has to be done."
Grega, now 50, is scheduled to be arraigned again on the murder charge in Windham County District Court in Vermont today in advance of his retrial later this year. A trial date has not been set.
The former NASA contract engineer was convicted less than a year after his wife, Christine Veal Grega, 31, was found strangled on Sept. 12, 1994, in a bathroom at the West Dover, Vt., condominium where the couple was vacationing with their 2-year-old son.
The trip was an attempt to repair their troubled marriage, authorities said. Grega has maintained that he was at a playground with his son at the time of the killing.
Sentenced to life without parole, he had served 18 years when a judge threw out the aggravated murder conviction and released him on bail in August after newly discovered DNA evidence -- skin cells belonging to an unknown man -- was found inside the victim.
Prosecutors at the original trial relied exclusively on circumstantial evidence and Grega's 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 playground alibi and bloodstained clothes found soaking in the washing machine when police arrived -- were enough to win a conviction that survived multiple appeals.
"I look forward to clearing my name," Grega said after his release. He is free on $75,000 bail and living at his mother's Lake Ronkonkoma home.
Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver said her office has rejected a request by Carleton to take new depositions from some of the original trial witnesses.
Brian LaMacchia, another attorney on Grega's legal team, argued that defense lawyers are entitled to talk with all witnesses again, since the new DNA evidence was not available at the trial.
"The landscape has changed," LaMacchia said at the hearing. "We have a new piece of the puzzle and we are entitled to talk to them about it."
Judge John Wesley, who called Grega's case the "most unusual . . . I have seen in my career," urged both sides to "exchange information and put aside your suspicions."
The new DNA evidence and the memory-fraying passage of time favors the defense.
Among the 347 people are maintenance workers at the condo where the killing happened, police and paramedics, neighbors from Long Island who witnessed marital strife between the Gregas and a host of people known to have been near the crime scene when she was killed.
Several people on the witness list told Newsday they have no interest in revisiting the grisly case.
"What happened to that woman was horrible, and I don't want to talk about it anymore," said a former worker at the condo where Christine Grega was killed, who asked that his name be withheld. "I told them what I knew 19 years ago. How can they go through this all over again with all these people? It's impossible."
"People have moved on with their lives," said another potential witness from Long Island, who also spoke anonymously. "Now they want to dredge up all these old memories."