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Falsely convicted death row inmate speaks out against death penalty

OCEANSIDE — Former California death row inmate Gloria Killian was the keynote speaker at the 23rd annual Amnesty International Walk for Human Rights at the Pier Amphitheater where she spoke out against the death penalty on Oct. 21. Killian was wrongly convicted of murder, burglary and grand theft in 1986. It was later found that Killian, a former law student, was only loosely associated with those involved in the murder of a Sacramento coin collector, whose wife survived the attack.

The evidence to set Killian free did not surface until 10 years after she was convicted when her friend hired a private attorney to look into the matter. It took another seven years until she was freed.

“It all stems from (district attorney) Christopher Cleland and an investigator who did something different,” Killian said.

Killian said convicted criminal Gary Masse plotted against her after he was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Former California death row inmate Gloria Killian is the keynote speaker at the Amnesty International walk held at the Pier Amphitheater Oct. 21. Photo by Promise Yee

Masse took the witness stand at Killian’s trial and accused her of being the mastermind of the crime. His testimony helped reduce his sentence.

“The prosecutor entered into a secret deal with the district attorney,” Killian said.

Key evidence in her favor was found in a letter that Masse wrote to the prosecutor after the trial. Masse said he lied on the witness stand to strike up a deal. The letter was never revealed to Killian and later led to the conviction of the district attorney for unethical conduct.

Killian’s conviction was eventually overturned and she was set free after serving 17 years on death row.

She wrote the book “Full Circle” detailing her experience.

“If I pitched it is as a fiction novel they would have said it was too far fetched,” Killian said.

While Killian was in prison she was assigned to work in the prison law library. She provided legal assistance to other inmates and worked extensively with battered women.

She also published several law articles and was instrumental in founding the USC Law Project at the California Institution for Women.

“I have always been against the death penalty,” she said. “It’s odd, but the reason is that I thought, ‘What do they do if they get it wrong?’ You can’t give someone their life back.”

After being convicted, Killian said her stand against the death penalty is firmer than ever.

“They have made too many mistakes,” she said.

Killian said she believes that people who are rightfully convicted need to be punished. She said sentencing a criminal to life in prison without parole is a more just penalty.

Proposition 34, which will be on the November ballot, does just that and ends the death penalty in California.

“It’s a way to reverse this headlong rush into insanity,” Killian said. “We waste so much money on it.”

Killian said since the death penalty was reinstated in California 700 people have been put on death row and 13 have been killed.

“The death penalty is no deterrent,” Killian said. “It’s simply and solely vengeance. Our society has to do better than that.”

Killian added that improvements to the prison system are also needed.

She described women’s prison as a place with no control, corruption and an experience that is degrading and humiliating to those who are incarcerated.

Killian said that because most of the self-help and vocational training programs have been discontinued in prisons, they only serve to warehouse people.

“The people who are the most dangerous are those who don’t have life sentences,” Killian said.

Killian continues to be an advocate for the humane treatment of prisoners and also serves as a criminal justice consultant and keynote speaker.