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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / ATTORNEY GENERAL : Grandfather of Slain Girl Lashes Out at Lungren : In backing Democratic challenger Tom Umberg, Joe Klaas says GOP candidates are exploiting the murder of Polly Klaas in pushing for tougher sentencing laws.

October 26, 1994|H.G. REZA and ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

GARDEN GROVE — Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren and other Republican candidates are "dancing a jig" on the grave of Polly Klaas to push their own agenda on crime, the murdered girl's grandfather charged Tuesday at a campaign event for Democratic challenger Tom Umberg.

Joe Klaas lashed out at Lungren, Gov. Pete Wilson and GOP senatorial candidate Mike Huffington and is appearing in an Umberg television commercial that blames Lungren for contributing to 12-year-old Polly's death.

Lungren, Wilson and Huffington--who is co-chairman of Proposition 184, the so-called "three strikes" initiative--have all used Polly's death to push for stricter sentencing laws.

"They are dancing a jig on Polly's grave, and that is sleaze," said Joe Klaas, a Democrat.

Umberg joined Klaas in charging that the girl's death might have been prevented if Lungren had maintained funding for a statewide computer database designed to give officers quick access to criminal records. Umberg and Klaas contend that if the system had been operational, Polly's alleged killer, Richard Allen Davis, could have been apprehended before she died.

Steve Telliano, Lungren's campaign spokesman, said officers who talked to Davis were unaware that there had been a kidnaping and did not call the department's dispatcher to check on his criminal history. Had they done so, the dispatcher could have called up a record replete with felonies, including two kidnaping charges, Telliano said.

"The Sonoma County sheriff has said repeatedly that the officers did not check the system because they didn't know there had been a kidnaping," Telliano said. "Had they known, had they radioed in, then they would have known about the kidnaping and maybe it would have been different. But it's a huge stretch that Umberg is making."

Telliano said the commercial may well backfire on Umberg.

"This ad may prove to be a grenade that Tom Umberg pulled the pin on but forgot to let go of," he said. "It may end up doing in his own campaign. People are absolutely outraged by this sleaze-ball ad."

Umberg, an assemblyman from Orange County and a former federal prosecutor, charged that the database--part of the Violent Crime Information Center--could have been maintained with $120,000 in funding and that the officers could have checked on Davis by computer from their vehicle.

Lungren says funding was pending at the time of the crime.

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