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Gloria Killian

Other California Cases with Female Exonerees
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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.

The habeas petition also alleged the trial prosecutor, Christopher Cleland, had improperly cross-examined Killian during her trial. According to the petition, Killian was questioned about the crime on December 16, 1981. She spoke to the police for two hours. After speaking to them, Killian was arrested. After being told she had a right to remain silent, she invoked that right. According to the habeas petition, during cross-examination and at closing argument, the prosecution improperly contended—no less than eight separate times—that Killian had something to hide by becoming silent upon arrest.

Killian’s lawyer, William Genego, claimed in the habeas petition that the prosecution had failed to disclose that a man named Gary Smith told police after the crime that he had been solicited by Robert Hord to commit the crime. Hord was the son of Neva Snyder, who had befriended Killian after she stopped attending law school. The petition claimed that Masse, who had been a friend of Hord since they were teenagers, falsely implicated Killian because he knew her based on his connection to Hord and Snyder.

At a hearing on the petition in July 1999, 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.

Smith testified at the hearing that he refused Hord’s invitation to rob the Davies home, but admitted that he had built the silencer that had been used to shoot Davies and his wife. Evidence showed that Masse and his wife had admitted to police that Hord provided the silencer that was fitted to the gun that killed Davies and wounded his wife. Smith also testified that Hord had received some of the coins taken from the Davies home, but was angry because some of the proof sets had been opened, reducing their value. Hord was never charged in the case.

Genego also presented evidence that Hord had solicited Masse to commit other crimes in the past, including one about a month earlier which had been carried out in similar fashion, with a woman knocking at the door to gain entry.

In 2000, the habeas petition was denied.

Genego appealed. In March 2002, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the denial, granted the petition and vacated Killian’s conviction. The appeals court ruled that the failure to disclose letters from Masse, Masse’s admitted perjury as well as the trial prosecutor’s commenting on Killian’s silence was “devastating to one’s confidence in the reliability of this verdict.”

On August 8, 2002, Killian was released from prison. On September 30, 2002, the prosecution dismissed the case.

Cleland was later publicly admonished by the California State Bar for his misconduct 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 devoted to improving conditions of female prisoners.

Killian died in October 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 10/22/2022
State:California
County:Sacramento
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Robbery, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1986
Exonerated:2002
Sentence:32 to Life
Race/Ethnicity:Native American, White
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:35
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No