Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Addicted to Luxury: The Pampered Killer

Giving In

On September 9, 1998, Gray, now 40, changed her plea.  Before Judge Patrick F. Magers, this time she pled guilty to robbing and murdering two women and attempting to murder another.  She had dropped all pretense to insanity.  Thus, by accepting a life sentence for murder, she had evaded the death sentence.  In addition, she would not be charged with the murder of her step-grandmother, Norma Davis.  (Her requirement for this condition, some say, was a tacit confession.)  Gray's agreement, according to the Associated Press, meant that she would not appeal any of her convictions. 

Some relatives of the victims weren't happy, believing that the depraved manner in which Gray had killed demanded that she die as well, but they were satisfied that she'd at least never get out of prison.  Bentley said that the "deciding factor" for making the deal was that Gray had no criminal record prior to the series of attacks, and that a quick closure spared the families the agony of listening to the details of the murders.  He was aware that some family members questioned this decision and were willing to go the distance.

Outside the courtroom, Sachs told reporters that it was "a roll of the dice" and that his client, who realized the stakes were high, preferred what seemed to her the safer route.  Sachs had been prepared with testimony from four psychiatrists and psychologists about the fact that she had abused alcohol and stopped taking her medication during the months leading up to the crime spree.  He also insisted that "her remorse is genuine."

Tim O'Leary, reporting for the Press Enterprise, indicated that Gray regretted the killings (which is not quite the same as expressing remorse), and was receiving counseling and medication.

Even with psychiatric testimony about depression, given the nature of the spending spree, a jury might well have decided that Gray was killing in order to keep herself in high style, not because she felt desperate over her finances.  Abusing alcohol is not generally considered an excuse, since it's voluntary, as is failure to take medication.  Others have been convicted despite these considerations.  Having psychiatrists discuss the behavioral consequences of alcohol and medication does not necessarily diminish responsibility at the initial decision-making stage. Gray's behavior with Dorinda Hawkins indicated a clear-minded plan and a steady hand, as well as preparation.  It's likely that this victim's testimony would have had as much impact, if not more, than a psychiatric opinion.  Indeed, the prosecutor had his own expert to undermine what the defense experts might say.

On October 16, 1998, four and a half years after the murders, Dana Sue Gray was finally sentenced.  She chose this opportunity to address the court for the first time.  As reported in the Press Enterprise, she said, "My life and my career have been focused on healing.  It has strayed so far from that goal it was so out of character.  I'm sorry and I know that these words will never be enough.  I will live with this the rest of my life."  She expressed her regret to the judge and said she accepted her responsibility, despite the fact that she believed her judgment had been clouded at the time of the offenses.  She repeated her belief that her acts could be attributed to a doctor's failure to monitor her medication after prescribing antidepressants. 

Judge Magers was unmoved by Gray's attempt to throw blame on someone else, which was hardly an acceptance of responsibility.  "It's hard to find words to describe the atrocity in this case," he said.  "The crime were horrendous, callous, and despicable."  He didn't add, but others later wondered, how a person who acts out violently due to medication would not immediately report this to someone to try to stop, rather than moving on in the cavalier, cheerful manner Gray had adopted.  As Bentley said after the sentencing, "I felt a lack of sincerity on her part."

Dorinda Hawkins told reporters, "A medical doctor I went to said, 'God let you live to identify her.'  I'm sure that's why I survived it." 

Gray received life without parole and was incarcerated in the California Women's Prison in Chowchilla.  Given the details of her crimes, and her degree of violence, Gray might end up in a few general works about serial killers, at least those dedicated to females.

California Women's Prison in Chowchilla
California Women's Prison in Chowchilla

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