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Judge to mull overturning Polly Klaas killer Richard Allen Davis’ death sentence

A California judge will consider Friday whether to recall the death sentence against Richard Allen Davis, who killed 12-year-old Polly Klaas in 1993 after kidnapping her from her bedroom at knifepoint in a crime that shocked the nation.

Jurors in 1996 found Davis guilty of first-degree murder and of the “special circumstances” of kidnapping, burglary, robbery and attempting a lewd act on a child. Davis, who had an extensive kidnap and assault record going back to the 1970s, was sentenced to death.

Davis’ attorneys argued in a February court filing that his death sentence should be recalled because of recent changes to California sentencing laws. They also noted California’s current moratorium on the death penalty.

In 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions, calling the death penalty “a failure” that has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, Black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.” A future governor could change that policy.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office called Davis’ attorneys’ arguments “nonsensical” and said the laws they are citing don’t apply to Davis’s death sentence for Klaas’ murder.

Davis didn’t attend a hearing about his sentence last month, CBS Bay Area reported.

The station said Marc Klaas, Polly’s father, never thought he would have to be back in a courthouse to relive the horrific case of how Polly was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered.

“It’s been terrible,” he told CBS Bay Area. “I believe that 28 years ago, you and I stood in almost exactly the same place, and I might have said something to the effect that this is finally over,” Klaas told CBS News Bay Area. “Yet here we are 30 years later.”

Davis kidnapped Klaas from her bedroom in Petaluma, 40 miles north of San Francisco, in October 1993 and strangled her to death.

That night, she and two friends held a slumber party and her mother slept in a nearby room.

Polly Klaas is seen in a photograph with her father Marc Klaas.  

CBS Bay Area


Klaas’ disappearance touched off a nationwide search by thousands of volunteers. Davis was arrested two months later and led police to the child’s body, which was found in a shallow grave 50 miles north of her home in Sonoma County.

The case was a major driver behind California’s passage of a so-called “three strikes” law in 1994 that set longer sentences for repeat offenders. Lawmakers and voters approved the proposal.

California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. And though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution.

Since California’s last execution, its death row population has grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the United States.