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Klaas Killer Sentenced to Die, Stuns Court

Crime: Richard Allen Davis accuses girl's father of molesting her. Prosecutor says no evidence supports the claim.

September 27, 1996|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JOSE — Moments before a judge sentenced him to death Thursday for the murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, Richard Allen Davis stunned a crowded courtroom by accusing the dead girl's father of molesting her.

As one of Marc Klaas' friends shouted "Burn in hell, Davis!" an enraged Klaas lunged toward the killer before sheriff's deputies intercepted him and pushed him from the courtroom. Spectators gasped and there was a long, drawn-out "Ohhhh!"

The episode began when Davis was telling Judge Thomas C. Hastings that he could not have committed a lewd act on Polly--a charge he denied during the trial--because she had begged him before her death: "Don't do me like my dad."

As Davis finished reading those words, Marc Klaas' mother, B.J. Klaas, began sobbing loudly. Later, Klaas explained that he "snapped" and began screaming obscenities once he heard his mother groan.

Hastings quickly proceeded to tell Davis, 42, that "his conduct" made a judge's difficult and traumatic task "very easy today."

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Greg Jacobs, who described himself as "nauseated" by the charge, said that no such allegation had ever been raised during the case and that there was no evidence to support it.

In addition to the death sentence, the judge gave Davis life in prison for kidnapping and committing a lewd act on a child, as well as 31 additional years for lesser crimes stemming from the October 1993 night when the attacker took Polly from her Petaluma home during a slumber party and later strangled her.

It was a startling conclusion to a case that had shocked the public from its beginning.

A massive, high-tech manhunt, led by Marc Klaas and an army of volunteers, made Polly Klaas a household name from the time of her disappearance to the discovery of her body on a lonely hillside near Santa Rosa.

When Davis led investigators to the body two months after the kidnapping, Petaluma's collective show of mourning touched the nation. A foundation devoted to preventing crimes against children was established in Polly's name, and Marc Klaas became a visible, vocal advocate for protecting children from predators.

The murder also gave impetus to a movement to enact California's three-strikes law, aimed at toughening sentences for repeat felons such as Davis.

In court Thursday, Marc Klaas said his daughter's murder had become "bigger than Polly or her killer." Davis' death sentence, he added, was about "justice for parents of children whose killers did not receive the death penalty."

After sentencing him, the judge ordered that Davis, a repeat felon who was on parole when he killed Polly, be taken to San Quentin's death row. Because of the death sentence, an appeal on Davis' behalf to the California Supreme Court is automatic and could take years.

Even so, Marc Klaas said, he intends to be there when Davis is put to death.

"The last thing Polly saw before she died were Richard Allen Davis' eyes," Klaas told reporters after the hearing. "The last thing Richard Allen Davis will see is my eyes, I hope."

Before Davis spoke to the court, Klaas and his father, Joe Klaas, made emotional pleas to Hastings, urging the judge to confirm the death sentence that a jury had recommended in August.

Marc Klaas said he has been "pursuing the death of the defendant for three years now." His voice wavering between sorrow and anger, Klaas remembered his child as someone who "would have made a wonderful wife, a wonderful mother and a wonderful citizen."

Everyone must die, Klaas said, but each death should be "on God's terms, not the terms of an unrepentant psychopath."

Davis occasionally smiled as he listened to the diatribe, even when Klaas suggested that the "honorable way out" would be for the felon to kill himself.

Joe Klaas said he believed that God "wants to see [Davis] real soon." At one point, he repeated a gesture Davis had directed toward the family after his conviction, raising the middle fingers of both hands in a symbol of contempt.

When Davis was allowed to speak, he began by dispassionately listing what he said were legal improprieties in the handling of his case. He said that he was denied access to an attorney during initial police interrogations and that as a result he made statements that forced him during the trial to "have had to admit to the guilt of certain charges against me."

Davis also complained that his court-appointed attorneys failed to challenge circumstantial evidence that he had molested Polly before strangling her. During a videotaped confession to police, Davis admitted killing the girl to prevent her from later identifying him but denied molesting her, saying he was not a "baby raper."

He offered what he said is "my sincere apology" to Eve Nichol, Polly's mother, and "to some members of the Klaas family."

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