SJC refuses to grant new trial to Dirk Greineder, convicted of murdering wife in Wellesley

(06/18/2001 - Dedham, MA) Dr. Dirk Greineder on the stand at Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham Monday morning. (061801dirk - Staff photo by Ted Fitzgerald. Saved in photo2 and tues)
Dirk Greineder in court in 2001 — The respected doctor’s trial made headlines.
Globe File Photo

Former Wellesley allergist Dirk K. Greineder Thursday lost his latest attempt to overturn the life sentence he is currently serving for murdering his wife, Mabel, in a Wellesley park in 1999.

In a 42-page ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected Greineder’s claim that his Norfolk Superior Court trial was constitutionally flawed because a DNA expert summarized results of forensic tests performed by another person.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Francis X. Spina said that the 2001 trial of Greineder must be examined based on a series of recent rulings by the US Supreme Court calling into question whether a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront a witness is violated if a witness summarizes another person’s work.

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Greineder’s attorneys argued that a DNA expert from Cellmark, Dr. Robin Cotton, should not have been allowed to tell the jury her interpretation of the results of six tests conducted on forensic evidence in the case. The person who actually did the labwork should have been called by the prosecution, too, the former allergist’s lawyers argued.

But the SJC said Cotton was questioned extensively about the DNA testing by Greineder’s trial lawyer, who was trying to show that the forensic evidence was unreliable.

“Not only did the defendant have a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine Dr. Cotton on the reliability of the data that formed the basis of her expert opinion, his experienced trial counsel used the opportunity effectively,’’ Spina wrote. “The confrontation clause’s purpose — to ensure fair criminal trials based on reliable evidence — was served.’’

The ruling, which had been prompted by litigation that landed before the US Supreme Court, left intact Greineder’s sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The SJC also rejected an appeal by Greineder in 2010.

Greineder’s appellate attorney, James L. Sultan, said Thursday he anticipates appealing the SJC case back to the US Supreme Court, which triggered today’s ruling by asking the Massachusetts court to review the way forensic evidence is presented to juries in criminal cases.

“Basically, his situation is unchanged until some court decides that he didn’t get a fair trial and orders a new one,’’ Sultan said. “That hasn’t happened yet—but we are not going to stop trying.’’

Sultan also criticized the SJC for the way it resolved the legal question raised in the Greneider case. He said the SJC has hung onto procedural rules that are more than 20 years old, and which ignore the need of juries to hear directly from the people who handle forensic evidence.

“Their position is really so terribly wrong,’’ Sultan said. “Those lab results, which are so critical in some many cases, are effectively insulated from any kind of meaningful scrutiny. That’s what the Sixth Amendment is about... the right to confront witnesses.’’

The murder of Mabel Greineder in the upscale town’s landmark Morse’s Park and the arrest and conviction of her husband made headlines, particularly after sensational revelations that the allergist frequented prostitutes and pornography. His trial drew widespread media coverage and spawned the book, “A Murder in Wellesley.’’

In a statement, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, who inherited the case when he took over the office, welcomed the SJC’s ruling. He said he was with Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham when both learned of the SJC ruling.

The “decision re-affirms that Mabel Greineder was the victim of a brutal domestic violence murder at the hands of her husband Dirk, the fairness of his trial and that the verdict was just.’’ Morrissey said, crediting prosecutors and investigative work by Wellesley and State Police for his arrest and conviction.