John Grega spent his first day as a free man at his mother's home in Long Island.
"I walked around the block around 5 o'clock this morning, got back and jumped in my mom's pool, I took a swim. At 6 o'clock, I lit a cigar my friend Dave gave me and watched the sunrise in the backyard. It was just unbelievable," Grega said.
The 50-year-old spent the past 18 years in prison accused of horrific crimes he claims he didn't commit.
"It's been a long time and I couldn't have done it without my family," Grega said. "I'm so happy to be with my mom, my dad passed away, I miss him, my brothers, my sister."
Prosecutors say back in 1994, Grega and his wife, Christine, traveled to West Dover with their young son to try to work on marital problems. Police say he brutally raped and beat his wife. Grega at first said her death was due to rough sex, but later pointed the finger at two people painting at the condos where they were staying. The jury didn't buy it. He was convicted of murder.
Grega has maintained his innocence and says new DNA evidence from the 1994 murder points to an unknown male.
"I knew the day would come," he said. "In my heart, I knew it would."
The new DNA tests were possible because of a recently passed Vermont law that allows for a retrial if DNA evidence was not admitted in the first trial.
"I think it's difficult to overstate how important this DNA evidence is, the results speak for themselves," said Ian Carleton, Grega's lawyer.
"One of the things we are interested in doing is reaching justice. And since this DNA evidence came to light, it was important to give a jury a fuller picture of all the evidence against Mr. Grega and let the jury decide if he is rightly accused of killing his wife," Windham County Prosecutor Tracy Shriver said.
"This is a national trend of criminal defendants being exonerated because of new scientific evidence that is available," said Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.
Legal experts say getting a second conviction may be more challenging for prosecutors at the retrial.
"Generally if the DNA doesn't match, it creates enough reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors that the person is innocent, even though they think the person is guilty of the crimes. Jurors are becoming increasingly unlikely to convict unless there is a match on the forensics," Hanna said.
Grega's focus now is reuniting with family, like nieces and nephew he has not met. As for the retrial, he says: "I feel confident I'll be all right."
It's not yet known when Grega's new murder trial will take place.
The couple's 20-year-old son and the family of Christine Grega had no comment.
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