It’s hard to believe that she’s been locked away for that long in a California state prison.
“I would rather die than go back to prison,” says Gloria, who was sent away for a robbery-murder she claims she didn’t commit. “I’m innocent. I did not plan the robbery. I did not know those people. I was not involved. I am not the perpetrator.”
But Lana Wyant, with the District Attorney’s office in Sacramento, Calif., wants Gloria back in jail: “We’re convinced that she was the mastermind of this murder.”
Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports for 48 Hours Investigates.
The crime Killian was convicted of occurred in 1981, in the quiet, middle-class neighborhood of Rosemont, Calif., near Sacramento.
Detective Stan Reed, now retired, was among the first to arrive on the scene. Two men had broken into the home of 71 year-old Ed Davies, a coin collector who kept gold and silver in his house.
Davies was found dead on his kitchen floor. He was shot twice to the head, once at point blank range. There were no witnesses to the crime.
Within days, authorities got a tip and arrested career criminal Gary Masse and charged him with the Davies’ murder.
Divorced and in her mid-thirties, Gloria had almost finished law school, but decided to take time off to enjoy life. She says she loved to go to clubs, and she loved to party. “I knew some people I should not have known,” she says.
One of those people was a friend of Gary Masse, the man arrested for the Davies’ murder. Gloria says she never knew Masse, but when an anonymous tip mentioned her name and his together, she was arrested.
“I have no idea what is happening to me and I’m terrified,” recalls Gloria.
But detectives didn’t buy her claims of innocence after they discovered a notebook in her purse that included this address - 8933 Rosewood. It was two doors from the victim’s home.
Also in the notebook was a list of items that could have been used in the crime - including rope and gloves. Davies’ feet were tied with rope, and no fingerprints were found.
“They took some completely unrelated lists and phrases and cobbled them together to constitute what they called corroborating evidence,” says Gloria.
But it was enough for authorities to charge Killian with murder. After spending three and a half months in jail awaiting trial, she was released. The charges were dropped because of lack of evidence.
A year later, however, Killian was arrested again.
“What had changed is that Gary Masse went to trial. He was convicted on all counts,” says Gloria. “And he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.”
Masse’s sentence was withdrawn and eventually reduced to 25 years to life after he testified against Gloria and said for the first time that she was the real mastermind behind the Davies murder.
Gloria was convicted, and sentenced to 32 years to life.
But it’s what happened to Gloria behind bars that makes her story so remarkable. Her passion for the law led to a job in the prison law library. And she became a jailhouse attorney, advising inmates in everything from parole hearings to appeals.
“She’s Johnny Cochran,” says inmate Joyce Houston, who was coached by Gloria on how to properly present herself to the parole board. “I’ll never forget her.”
Gloria’s biggest success case, however, is Brenda Aris - who was serving a life sentence for killing her husband who repeatedly beat her.
Gloria sent out more than 6,000 letters on behalf of Brenda and even published a law review article about her case.
“I’m not someone who sits around and advocates, ‘Oh, everybody in prison deserves to be out,” or anything like that. But there are so many injustices,” says Gloria.
Her efforts paid off. Aris’ release 6 years ago marked the first time a battered women who killed her husband was granted clemency in California.
“It was very powerful,” says Gloria. “Not because I did it, but because it was right.”
Still, she stayed in prison. “There were periods of time that I was sure I would never, ever get out. That no one would ever care what happened to me,” she says.
But that would all change the day she met a Joyce Ride, a 79 year-old widow from Pasadena.
“My daughters describe me as the Elderly Widow Ride,” says Joyce.
You’ll probably remember one of Joyce Ride’s two daughters – America’s first woman astronaut, Sally Ride.
It seems determination runs in the family. Joyce has been a volunteer visitor at women’s prisons for years.
In 1992, she listened to Gloria’s story and believed it: “Clearly she was innocent of the crime, so at that point I said, ‘Is it alright with you if I hire an investigator?’”
During the next 10 years, Joyce spent nearly $100,000 of her own money to help Gloria.
“I’m profoundly annoyed by injustice. And I just have to do something,” says Joyce, who hired Bill Genego, a lawyer who specializes in post conviction appeals.
Genego wasn’t optimistic about Gloria’s chances: “It’s just that the law makes it so difficult to challenge a conviction after it’s become final.”
His law clerk at the time, Lauren Eskenazi, was fresh out of law school ready to take on the world.
Gloria’s new legal team had always believed the prosecution secretly cut a deal with Gary Masse, since his life sentence was reduced after he testified against Gloria. But Masse denied under oath that any deal existed.
But Genego was given a letter that suggested otherwise. It was written by Masse to the prosecutor’s office just months after Gloria’s conviction. In it, Masse refers to “a verbal agreement” about a lighter sentence and admits lying on the witness stand during Gloria’s trial.
“But the problem was who’s gonna believe him,” says Genego. “Nobody’s gonna believe Masse. He’s not a believable guy.”
As a result, Genego knew he needed something else to overturn Gloria’s conviction. After months and months of digging through court documents, Eskanazi found it.
It was another letter - this one written by the prosecutor in Killian’s case - addressed to the judge who was going to sentence Masse. The letter said that Masse’s cooperation “deserves consideration by the Court.”
“This case to me is about the lengths that at least this prosecutor was willing to go to get a conviction, absent any real evidence, any credible evidence,” says Eskanazi.
However, Lana Wyant, spokesperson for the Sacramento District Attorney’s office, said there was no verbal agreement with Masse: “The only promise that was ever made to Gary Masse was made to him by the sheriff’s department. And that was to keep him safe.”
What about the recommendation from the prosecutor to the judge regarding Masse’s sentence, which was noted in that second letter? Wyant says that letter was sealed by the court and Masse never even saw it.
But Genego says the prosecutor should have handed over the letters to Killian’s defense attorney.
“In retrospect, the letter should have been disclosed,” says Wyant. “But it didn’t matter. Gloria Killian is not actually innocent of the crimes for which she was convicted. And her conviction does not lie on perjured testimony.”
Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denounced the prosecution’s conduct, finding that all the errors made were “devastating to one’s confidence in the reliability of this verdict.” The court set aside her conviction, and after 16 years in prison, Gloria Killian was released.
“People that I didn’t even know were jumping up and down and clapping. The whole unit is cheering for me. And it was a truly amazing moment,” says Gloria.
“And I’m looking at people that I know are never supposed to get out of prison, and I still feel that tremendous outpouring of love and happiness and a hope that I can do something. That I can figure out a way to help everyone else.”
And that’s exactly what Gloria has been doing ever since her release - working full time to raise money and people’s consciousness about women behind bars.
“I came to understand that terrible things happen to many, many women and I knew I had to do something about it,” says Gloria. “I have no intention of turning my back on the women I left behind.”
Gloria recently started her own non-profit organization called Action Committee for Women in Prison. She remains dedicated to helping other women who may be victims of injustice.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento district attorney’s office still reserves the right to retry Killian for the robbery and homicide. But so far, they have taken no new steps to do so.