A Portland man has pleaded guilty to murder in the strangulation death of his girlfriend this year.

Gregory Vance, 62, has been held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail. He will remain there until his sentencing hearing on Dec. 19. The plea agreement capped his sentence at 35 years, although the defense attorney will argue for the statutory minimum of 25 years.

A police affidavit said Vance had been in a relationship with 59-year-old Patricia Grassi for 15 years. He 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 and pleaded not guilty that month.

Patricia Grassi Photo courtesy of the family

When the hearing started Wednesday morning, Vance closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them again to begin answering the judge’s questions. He stood between his defense attorneys, Tina Heather Nadeau and Robert LeBrasseur.

He responded to the inquiries from Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills with a quiet and polite, “Yes, ma’am.”

“What’s your plea?” Mills asked him.

“Guilty,” Vance answered.

No family members of either Vance or Grassi attended the plea hearing, but they could make statements at the sentencing next month.

An obituary described 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 said. “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.

Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis recounted the evidence against Vance during the plea hearing.

He said Vance’s daughter called police to request a wellness check at the apartment the couple shared. Portland officers responded there and found Vance, who told them his girlfriend was dead.

“He claimed he had strangled Patricia to death, that he was sorry, that he covered her up and put her in bed,” Ellis said.

Ellis said Vance also confessed the killing to his children and his ex-wife, and the autopsy report and other evidence supported the guilty plea.

“With his plea today, Mr. Vance has formally taken responsibility for his actions,” Nadeau wrote in an email. “He has always been remorseful for what he did – he continues to grieve for Ms. Grassi. This is a tragic case for everyone involved.”

Grassi’s death was one of eight domestic violence homicides this year in Maine. There have been 18 homicides so far in 2019.

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