On March 11, 1994, 67-year-old Geneva Long was beaten to death and her rooftop apartment was set ablaze in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Three weeks later, Donald Walborn, who was in jail facing an arson charge, told police that 36-year-old David Gladden, who had been in the jail but was released on the day of the murder, had told him that Long would be an easy target.
Police began canvassing the neighborhood, looking for witnesses. One of those questioned was Andrew Dillon, who stayed with his girlfriend who lived in the same building where the crime occurred in an apartment about 50 feet from Long’s residence.
Dillon, who had just been released from prison after serving time for a theft conviction, told police he was window shopping at the time of the murder.
His girlfriend, however, told police that he had left the apartment to check in at a community corrections center, a requirement of his release. She said that not long after, she was awakened by shouts that the building was on fire and went outside. There, she said, Dillon walked up to her.
Police were suspicious because of the inconsistencies, but had no evidence to link Dillon or anyone else to the crime.
Seven months later, in October 1994, Walborn, then facing a charge of sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl, said that James Carson had also implicated Gladden in the murder.
Three days later, police interviewed Carson, 22, who was in jail on a car-theft charge. After two days of questioning, Carson told police that he had gone to Long’s apartment with Gladden who used a key to enter. When Long came home, Carson said he hid in a closet, but Gladden struggled with the woman. Carson said he fled the apartment.
Gladden, a mentally impaired man with an IQ of 67 and a criminal record as a petty thief, was brought in for questioning and, according to police, began weeping and asked for his grandmother when confronted about the crime.
On October 21, 1994, Carson and Gladden were both charged with the crime.
In June 1995, Gladden went on trial in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court. The trial lasted three days and included five witnesses—a pathologist, three police officers and Carson, who had agreed to plead guilty and testify against Gladden in exchange for a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.
On June 12, 1995, the jury took three hours, including lunch, to convict Gladden of second-degree murder, burglary, robbery, arson and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In 2005, Pete Shellem, an investigative reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News newspaper, published a series of articles disclosing that Dillon had later been charged, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to life in prison for four murders of elderly women in a manner very similar to the killing of Long, and all in the same general area.
At the time of Gladden’s trial, Dillon had been charged with one of the murders and identified as a suspect in the three others, but police assured Gladden’s lawyer that Dillon was not a suspect in Long’s murder, so a possible connection was never explored.
Shellem located a witness who said that Dillon asked him to be his alibi on the night of Long’s murder. The witness said he did not contact authorities about the statement because he believed Dillon had been convicted of Long’s murder along with the other murders.
Carson told Shellem that the police accused him of the murder, saying that Gladden had implicated him as the killer. Carson said police threatened him with the death penalty, said they had physical evidence linking him to the crime and ultimately fed him details that he used for his statement implicating himself and Gladden.
On February 16, 2007, Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico presented a motion jointly with Gladden’s defense attorneys to vacate the convictions and dismiss the charges.
– Maurice Possley