A Portland man has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of his girlfriend in March.

Gregory Vance, 61, appeared at the Cumberland County Courthouse for a brief hearing Wednesday morning. Wearing a blue dress shirt and a pink tie, he told the judge he understood the charge against him and entered his plea in a quiet voice.

Vance was the boyfriend of 59-year-old Patricia Grassi. Vance was arrested March 17, the same day her body was found in the Cumberland Avenue apartment they shared. Police said Grassi had been strangled. He was indicted on the murder charge May 10.

Vance will continue to be held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail.

“We are still in the process of receiving and reviewing discovery and conducting our own investigation and research, preparing the best defense possible on behalf of Mr. Vance,” defense attorney Tina Heather Nadeau said in an email.

A spokesperson said the Maine Attorney General’s Office had no further comment on the case.

A police affidavit says Vance confessed to killing Grassi in phone calls to his daughter and his ex-wife. After the call, his daughter immediately contacted the Portland Police Department to ask them to check on her father and his girlfriend because they’d had a fight.

The affidavit describes the police officers knocking on the apartment door but getting no answer. They were preparing to break down the door when Vance opened it. A sergeant handcuffed him and asked him who else was in the apartment, and Vance named his girlfriend. When the sergeant asked if Grassi was OK, he said she was dead, the affidavit says. When another officer asked him what happened, Vance said, “She was tormenting me, slapping me.”

Patricia Grassi Photo courtesy of family

An obituary describes Grassi as a Maine native who loved animals, drawing and gardening. She grew up in Lincoln and graduated from Mattanawcook Academy in 1977. She had a close bond with her maternal grandmother and her dog named Soda Pop.

“She had a talent for art, which was evident in her beautiful drawings, mostly of animals,” the obituary says. “She also had a love of gardening and would spend countless hours tending to her plants in her small garden that she referred to as her own little ‘patch’ of the world.”

The obituary includes a list of relatives, but Vance is not mentioned. The family requested donations for Through These Doors, a domestic violence resource center in Cumberland County.

A family member of Vance wrote in an email that she did not want to speak with a reporter.

The affidavit alludes to a volatile relationship that involved drug use, but few other details are known about the couple.

When police first responded to the scene, dispatchers told police that there was a history of Grassi assaulting Vance inside the apartment on Cumberland Avenue, according to the affidavit. The Portland Police Department provided a list of calls for service at that address during the last five years, but details of those calls were not available, and it is not clear how long the couple lived in the apartment. Neither Vance nor Grassi had taken out a protective order against the other.

Vance has a criminal record in Maine, including a felony conviction in 1990 for two counts of gross sexual assault. A background check shows he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but five years suspended for those crimes, and he is a lifetime registrant as a sex offender.

He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 1989 and again in 1990; in the second case, records indicate the crime was related to domestic violence. He was also convicted of two misdemeanors – criminal mischief and disorderly conduct – in separate cases in 2007.

Grassi had two misdemeanor convictions in 2005 for theft and violating her conditions of release.

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