Patriot-News

PATRIOT-NEWS INVESTIGATION

Gladden freed from life term
Saturday, February 17, 2007
BY PETE SHELLEM
Of The Patriot-News

A Harrisburg man was freed from a life in prison yesterday after authorities agreed evidence uncovered by a series of Patriot-News stories raised doubts about his guilt in the slaying of a woman.

David Gladden, 49, who has been in prison since 1995, walked out of the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy hours after Judge Jeannine Turgeon signed a motion from prosecutors to throw out the conviction.

"God does work for a lot of good things for good people," Gladden said after his release.

"This is the happiest day of my life," said Gladden's grandmother Ellen Pleasant, 93, who traveled to the prison near Frackville last night to greet him.

Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. agreed Gladden should be free after an investigation prompted by the newspaper series.

Marsico said the investigation turned up questions about Gladden's culpability.

However, none diminished the importance of how similar M. Geneva Long's 1994 slaying was to the four murders of women committed by Andrew Dillon, a serial killer who was living next to Long at the time of her death. Dillon is serving four life terms.

"The cases that we know Dillon committed are incredibly similar to this case," Marsico said. "And with Dillon living down the hall, if that evidence has been presented to the jury, certainly there would be a reasonable doubt."

In the December 2005 series "Is David Gladden Innocent?" The Patriot-News outlined how Dillon was staying in a room about 50 feet from where Long was beaten and set on fire in her rooftop apartment behind a Second Street building on March 11, 1994.

She had stomping injuries similar to Dillon's other victims and appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Dillon set a fire after he killed one of his victims and, in another case, investigators found matches scattered around the woman's body.

Gladden's attorney, Royce L. Morris, said he was thankful that Marsico and First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo "demonstrated morale courage and did what was in the interest of justice."

"We can't give him back those years, but hopefully we can give him a measure of justice," Morris said.

Coerced confession:

The only testimony during Gladden's 1994 trial that tied him to the murder was that of James Carson. Carson said he and Gladden broke into Long's apartment and said he fled when Long came home. Carson testified that he saw Gladden choking Long as he ran away.

Carson, who was sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to third-degree murder, told The Patriot-News last year he was coerced into the confession.

He said investigators told him Gladden had implicated him, and they fed him information about the crime, threatened him with the death penalty and used his terminally ill mother to persuade him to confess.

While prosecutors were skeptical of Carson's recantation, they said a review of the initial statements he gave police were "demonstrably false."

Gladden, who was classified by a psychologist as borderline mentally retarded and functioning on a third-grade level, did not confess, but broke down crying and asked for his grandmother when investigators asked him to take a polygraph.

False alibi exposed:

A witness who came forward after reading The Patriot-News series said Dillon asked him to be his alibi on the night of Long's murder.

His story is corroborated by Dillon's statement to police, in which he said he was with Joseph Baumgartner, whom he identified as a heavyset white cabdriver named Joe. Baumgartner was driving a cab at the time.

Baumgartner said that until reading The Patriot-News series, he thought Dillon had pleaded guilty to killing Long as well as three other Harrisburg women and a Scranton woman.

At the time of Long's murder, Dillon was living in a halfway house and spending weekend furloughs with his girlfriend, Debra Hammaker, in a room about 50 feet from Long's apartment.

Two months before Gladden's trial, Dillon was charged with one murder and identified as the prime suspect in three others. But no one, including Gladden's trial attorney, Allen C. Welch, mentioned Dillon during the trial. Welch said he was assured by then-District Attorney John F. Cherry that the investigation had cleared Dillon.

Police were led to Gladden and Carson by Donald "Goofball" Walborn, a convicted child molester and thief acting as a police informant.

Walborn was facing the possibility of more than 100 years in prison for the rapes of two 12-year-old girls when he identified Gladden as a suspect.

He initially implicated another man as a conspirator of Gladden's, but when that didn't pan out, he identified Carson.

Walborn never testified because police classified him as a reliable confidential informant, but he was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison after his cooperation.

PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or pshellem@patriot-news.com


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