On December 9, 1981, two men disguised as telephone repairmen entered the home of an elderly couple in Rosemont, California. Ed Davies was fatally shot. His wife, Grace, was shot in the head, but survived. Six suitcases full of silver were stolen.
On December 14, an anonymous telephone call to authorities identified the perpetrators as Stephen DeSantis and his cousin, Gary Masse. When officers attempted to find Masse, they spoke to his wife, Joanne, who said that a woman named Gloria planned the robbery. Masse surrendered to police on December 17, 1981, the same day the police arrested 35-year-old Gloria Killian, a former law student with no prior criminal record. After a preliminary hearing, the charges against Killian were dismissed.
Masse went on trial in Sacramento County Superior Court and in May 1983, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Almost immediately, Masse contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to try to make a deal. After he was assured that the prosecution would be willing to assist in a sentence reduction, Masse implicated DeSantis and Killian. Masse’s sentence was vacated at the request of the prosecution.
Killian was re-arrested in June 1983 and, along with DeSantis, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, robbery, burglary and conspiracy to commit robbery. The conspiracy charge alleged that sometime prior to the robbery, Killian went to the door of the Davies’ residence in an unsuccessful attempt to gain entry for Masse and DeSantis.
Killian and DeSantis were tried separately. DeSantis went first, took the stand in his own defense and denied involvement. He also denied that he had ever met or heard of Killian. DeSantis also testified that Masse had told him about a prior aborted attempt to rob the Davies family in which Gary’s wife, Joanne, went to the front door of their home and asked to use their phone.
Masse testified at Killian’s trial in February 1986 and his testimony was the only direct evidence against Killian. Grace Davies testified and described how a woman had come to the door of the house some time prior to the robbery, but she could not identify Killian as the woman.
Masse told the jury that he had no deal or arrangement with the prosecution. He said that Killian was the mastermind of the plot to rob the Davies and that after learning of the robbery and murder, she called to demand her share of the robbery proceeds.
On February 26, 1986, Killian was convicted and sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. Masse’s sentence was reduced from life without parole to 25 years.
Ten years later, after a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus had been filed, defense investigators discovered evidence of Masse’s agreement with the prosecution, including a letter Masse sent to the prosecutor soon after Killian was sentenced. In the letter, Masse said, “I lied my ass off for you people.” The letter, as well as two others Masse wrote that detailed the resentencing agreement, were never disclosed to the defense by the prosecution.
At a hearing on the petition, Masse admitted that much of the evidence he gave was false, including his testimony that he had not made a deal with the prosecution in exchange for testimony, and that Killian was the mastermind behind the robbery.
In March 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed Killian’s conviction ruling that her conviction was based on false testimony by Masse. Killian was released in August 2002 and the prosecution dismissed the charges against her a month later.
The prosecutor in Killian’s case, Christopher Cleland, was later admonished by the California State Bar for his conduct in the case.
After her release, Killian co-authored a book about her experiences and became executive director of the Action Committee for Women in Prison, an organization that works to improve conditions of female prisoners.
– Maurice Possley