Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Astronaut's mom helps overturn murder conviction

By Thom Patterson, CNN
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Sometimes the act of one person can alter the entire course of someone else's life. For Joyce Ride, that act was befriending a prisoner named Gloria Killian. Their friendship marked the beginning of an amazing journey for both women. Click through the gallery for details. Sometimes the act of one person can alter the entire course of someone else's life. For Joyce Ride, that act was befriending a prisoner named Gloria Killian. Their friendship marked the beginning of an amazing journey for both women. Click through the gallery for details.
HIDE CAPTION
She saved a friend from life in prison
Gloria Killian
Bloody crime scene
Tied up on the floor
The weapon
Ransacked home
Hidden safes
Stephen DeSantis
Gary Masse
Buried suitcases
Arrest and trial
Trip diary
Cherry picked?
A friend outside
A key letter by the prosecution
'I even lied my ass off on the stand...'
Freedom
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joyce Ride's $100K probe overturned a murder conviction
  • Gloria Killian served nearly 17 years for murder; eventually, charges were dismissed
  • Private eye finds jaw-dropping proof of a plea deal for testimony
  • Ride, mom to the late astronaut, volunteers to befriend prisoners

Programming note: Explore America's complex capital punishment system in the CNN Original series, "Death Row Stories." Join the conversation at Facebook.com/cnn or on Twitter @cnnOrigSeries using #DeathRowStories.

(CNN) -- After almost 17 years in prison, this was it: This was The Moment.

Gloria Killian's murder conviction had been overturned. Carrying a small bag of her belongings, she walked out of prison as a free woman.

Only ex-prisoners can fully know the emotions that overtake someone during such a moment. It's a mix of two feelings: joy -- for surviving their ordeal -- and fear about the challenges they surely will face in the outside world.

For Killian's friend Joyce Ride, then in her late 70s, picking up Killian was also very emotional. "Seeing her walk out was a really great joy," Ride told CNN, recalling that day in 2002. "It was like a load was lifted off my shoulders."

In her own words: Gloria Killian
Suspect tells cop: 'I always get caught'
Locked up and 'nobody cared'
Murder case breakthrough: The letter
Redford on CNN's Death Row Stories

The two women noticed a crowd of inmates and visitors had gathered to watch this magic moment. Suddenly the inmates started waving goodbye.

The sendoff was sort of a thank-you note. "Gloria was very popular," Ride said. Killian had used her education as a former law student to perform legal work for some of the inmates.

Killian settled into Ride's passenger seat and Ride steered toward the exit. "We did a lap around the parking lot to wave back at them," said Ride.

Half an hour later, the two friends enjoyed a meal at an Italian restaurant, where Killian savored her first glass of wine since 1986. For someone sentenced to 32 years to life, it was a sweet victory following a hard-fought journey.

"I'm annoyed by injustice. Profoundly annoyed," Ride said. "This was clearly an injustice."

Six suitcases of silver

It all started in 1981, when Stephen DeSantis -- disguised as a phone repairman -- entered the home of elderly coin collector Ed Davies and his wife, Grace, in suburban Sacramento, California. According to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, DeSantis tied up the couple and was joined inside the house by his cousin Gary Masse. Ed Davies was shot and killed. His wife was also shot, but survived. The cousins stole six suitcases of silver.

After an anonymous phone tip accused Masse and DeSantis, police went on the hunt. "When officers attempted to find Masse, they encountered his wife, Joanne, who told the officers that a woman named Gloria planned the robbery," appeals court documents said.

Killian was a former law student in her 30s who'd never been in trouble with the law. Masse's wife told police her husband had met Killian through a mutual friend, according to Killian's book, "Full Circle." Police questioned Killian and held her without bail for about four months.

She told police she was innocent and had never met Masse, and was released for lack of evidence. Then, without warning a year later, police locked Killian away again without bail. Masse had suddenly told authorities that Killian was the crime's mastermind.

For a time, the death penalty loomed over Killian, but in 1983 the California Supreme Court changed the rules regarding the execution of accomplices to murder. That ruling made Killian eligible for bail until her trial began, more than two years later.

Although Masse implicated Killian at the trial, his cousin DeSantis had testified at his separate trial that "Killian was not involved in the crime in any way and that he had never even met or heard of Killian," according to court documents.

But the jury believed Masse's story and convicted Killian on charges of murder, robbery and conspiracy. She was locked up at the California Institution for Women prison at Chino.

'She probably wasn't a criminal'

It wasn't until the early 1990s that Joyce Ride came to the rescue.

She was visiting women inmates as a member of Friends Outside, one of many nonprofits across the nation that help inmates and their families cope with incarceration and transitioning to and from prison life. By supporting prisoner visits by friends and family members, Friends Outside says, it reduces stress among prisoners, preventing despair and unhealthy behavior.

Ride had already raised two daughters as a California housewife. One had grown up to become a Presbyterian minister. The other, the late Sally Ride, had become NASA's first woman astronaut.

I'm annoyed by injustice. Profoundly annoyed.
Joyce Ride, prison volunteer

A nun who volunteered by visiting women in jail inspired Ride to learn more about why so many women who are victims of domestic abuse end up in prison. After her husband died, Ride began dedicating many of her days to visiting incarcerated women. "It interested me," she said.

Ride's younger daughter, the minister, understood. But it confused her astronaut daughter. "Sally couldn't figure out why I was visiting prisons," Ride said. Compared to her work at NASA, she said, "it was a whole other world."

It was pure coincidence that Joyce Ride met Killian in prison. They hoped to work together to help women inmates who had suffered from domestic violence.

"Gloria had a good sense of humor and we just got along very well," Ride remembered. After about a year of visits, "it dawned on me she probably wasn't a criminal. So I asked her why she was there."

Killian told Ride her story.

Ride was convinced Killian was innocent. She felt that she had to do something.

Despite Killian's objections, Ride started financing a private investigation and legal battle that eventually would win Killian's freedom.

Joyce Ride\'s decade-long battle to win her friend\'s freedom cost Ride about $100,000, she said.
Joyce Ride's decade-long battle to win her friend's freedom cost Ride about $100,000, she said.

"I was willing to be stubborn and do what it takes," Ride said. "Of course when I started out I didn't know what it was going to cost." The decade-long battle cost Ride about $100,000. She sold stocks to raise money for Killian's defense and had to pay taxes on that income, she said.

Ride's private investigator, Darryl Carlson, uncovered a damning piece of evidence:

It was a letter that proved the prosecution's star witness, Masse, had struck a deal. In exchange for leniency, Masse testified that Killian was the master planner of the home invasion and murder.

Killian's prosecutor had never shared that letter with Killian's lawyers during the original trial.

Read the prosecutor's letter

In hopes of overturning the conviction, Killian's lawyers used this and two other letters to appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote that the letters "exposed Masse's motivation to lie and tended to show that he did lie." The letters made Masse's testimony worthless and "without it, there was no case," Hawkins wrote.

Hawkins noted that one of the other documents discovered by Killian's team was a letter Masse "wrote to the prosecutor shortly after Killian's trial in which he emphasized that he 'lied (his) ass off on the stand' for the government."

Read the official transcript of Masse's letter

Read the opinion of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Eventually, prosecutors dismissed the charges against Killian.

The ordeal was over.

But not before Killian had spent nearly two decades behind bars.

Housemates

In 2008, State Bar of California prosecutors brought "prosecutorial misconduct" disciplinary charges against the prosecutor, Christopher Cleland. The court ruled Cleland was "culpable of failing to disclose exculpatory evidence (one letter) to the defense..." As a result, the court determined Cleland should receive an "admonishment" — which is considered neither discipline nor exoneration.

Read the California State Bar Court's decision

Now, a dozen years after her release, Killian and Ride are still supporting each other as the best of friends -- sharing Ride's home in Claremont, California.

"All of Gloria's relatives died while she was in prison," Ride said. "So, when she got out, I offered her a place to stay." They've recently taken in a third housemate, a woman Killian befriended in prison.

In the decade since her release, Killian has raised money to help women prisoners. She has founded an advocacy group, the Action Committee for Women in Prison. She also tells her story on the speaking circuit.

At age 90, Ride isn't stopping either. She's still volunteering and visiting inmates.

"Prisoners are persons like the rest of us, and they've made mistakes," Ride said. "I think prisoners need friends on the outside."

For Killian, having that friend made all the difference in the world.

Ride says America should do more to support the nation's prison population. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
She depends on her iPhone and plays Plants vs. Zombies. At 75, death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean hasn't slowed down.
updated 6:46 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
As manufacturers cut off supplies of lethal injection drugs, states look for new drug combinations for executions.
updated 2:21 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
One death has reopened the debate about capital punishment and lethal injection.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
An infographic illustrates America's record on executions by race, state, year and method since the death penalty was reinstated more than 30 years ago.
updated 8:03 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
More than 14,000 people have been executed under U.S. law. About 3,000 more are slated for execution on death rows across the nation.
updated 7:16 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Clayton Lockett's botched lethal injection and deadly heart attack raises disturbing questions about how the U.S. executes death row prisoners.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Sat April 5, 2014
After John Thompson survived 14 years on death row he had to figure out how to return to the world.
updated 9:46 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Just weeks away from execution, see the evidence that saved John Thompson's life.
updated 6:23 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Death row inmate John Thompson describes his reaction after Louisiana set his official execution date.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
A first-time meeting between death row inmate John Thompson and his appellate lawyers yields mutual skepticism.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Death row inmate John Thompson confronts a proposed shift in legal strategy aimed at saving his life.
updated 5:30 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Teresa McAbee, age 11, was found dead, floating in a Florida lake. Repercussions from her murder continue nearly 30 years later.
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Longtime Miami-area homicide detective Marshall Frank has met some really bad people. He reveals three steps to coax killers to confess their crimes.
updated 4:11 PM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
A mother convicted of a murder to which her son has confessed won't be executed Thursday as judges review her post-conviction motion.
updated 6:17 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Never imprisoned before, ex-cop James Duckett describes his first moments as a convicted killer on death row.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Why wasn't a key piece of evidence shown to jurors? Can a simple notebook prove a man's innocence?
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
A retired homicide detective examines the strange case of an ex-cop sentenced to death row for the murder of an 11-year-old girl.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
He's been a priest, a nurse and an attorney -- but nothing could prepare Neil Kookoothe for his discovery in the case of Joe D'Ambrosio.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Joe D'Ambrosio, like many inmates, claimed he was innocent. As he learned, claiming it is one thing. Proving it is another.
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Although his conviction was overturned, prosecutors tried to keep an ex-death row inmate locked up before his new trial.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Why did Joyce Ride, mother of NASA's first woman in space, fight to free Gloria Killian? "I'm profoundly annoyed by injustice."
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
Judge the murder case against former law student Gloria Killian for yourself. Take a look at the evidence.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
When police questioned an unwitting Gloria Killian after a brutal murder, she used a poor choice of words.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Well into her 32-years-to-life murder sentence, Gloria Killian met a friend on the outside who was willing to listen.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Prison lifer Gloria Killian's defense team finds a previously unknown letter that may help win her freedom.
updated 4:10 PM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
Legal intern Diana Holt refused to believe that death row inmate Edward Lee Elmore was a killer. So began the fight of their lives.
updated 7:31 AM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
Examine the evidence in the murder case against Edward Lee Elmore.
updated 4:30 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
Three weeks before his execution date, Edward Lee Elmore asked his attorney a heartbreaking question. Watch her tearful response.
updated 4:28 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
Diana Holt was searching for alternate suspects in a brutal murder case. What she discovered made her head spin.
updated 1:51 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
A law student was sent to meet a death row inmate accused of a horrible murder. Their meeting triggered the beginning of an amazing story.
updated 4:16 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Virtual "killing sprees" in Iran and Iraq led to a spike in the number of executions globally last year, according to Amnesty International.
updated 6:15 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Watch a frank, online discussion about the death penalty and the case of Edward Lee Elmore.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Thu August 22, 2013
Some death penalty opponents will admit it: the worst of the worst of the worst, DO deserve to die.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
Execution chamber
Killing people by lethal injection will soon be as old as burning heretics at the stake -- at least in the civilized world.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Before Ohio executed him by legal injection, inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and convulse.
updated 1:58 PM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
Death row inmates deal with demons in different ways. William Van Poyck chose to write.
updated 12:54 AM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
A shortage of lethal injection drugs contributes to a dip in the use of capital punishment.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT