YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Among Bitter Attacks, Davis' Insult Stands Out

Trials: 'Throwing emotional acid' in bereaved father's face, as convicted killer of Polly Klaas did, is very unusual, lawyers say.

September 28, 1996|From Associated Press

SAN JOSE — It was the ultimate insult, hurled at one of the gravest moments in the judicial process.

The accusation: that 12-year-old Polly Klaas had been molested by her father. The accuser: Richard Allen Davis, the parolee about to be sentenced to die for killing Polly.

Other defendants have erupted in court, shouted obscenities at the judge and even turned on their own attorneys. But rarely, if ever, trial observers said Friday, has one uttered the kind of malevolent insult Davis aimed at Marc Klaas.

"It's extremely unusual that a defendant, a convicted defendant who is present for sentencing, takes the opportunity to throw . . . emotional acid in the face of the bereaved survivor," said Robert Pugsley of Southwestern University School of Law.

"Most defendants don't say anything, except to plead for mercy," said former Massachusetts prosecutor Tom Hoopes, who is now in private practice in Boston. "This guy is just a manipulator to the end."

Emotion is no stranger to the courtroom, where life and death can hang in the balance.

William Kirkpatrick Jr., one of Davis' new colleagues on San Quentin's death row, had to be shackled during his sentencing in August 1984 and was threatened with being gagged after he yelled an obscenity at the judge.

Richard Ramirez, Southern California's Night Stalker serial killer, was hauled from a court hearing in August 1989 after he yelled that his trial was a joke and cursed at the judge.

What made the Davis incident unusual was that it involved an attack by a defendant on someone outside the system--a bereaved parent.

"It exceeds the bounds of decency that we expect even from people convicted of the kind of vicious crime for which he was sentenced to death," Pugsley said.

Davis, 42, was convicted in June of killing Polly after kidnapping her as she played with two girls at a slumber party in her bedroom in Petaluma, north of San Francisco.

The jury found that the "special circumstances" of robbery, kidnapping, burglary and attempting a lewd act on a child occurred, meaning a punishment of death or life in prison without parole.

On Aug. 5, jurors chose death.

On Thursday, Davis addressed the court, embarking on a long list of complaints. The insult came when he suddenly started talking about the one charge he had denied--that he tried to sexually molest Polly. Davis said the reason he knew he had not committed that crime was because Polly had told him as he led her to the hillside where police believe she was slain, "Just don't do me like my dad."

Klaas shouted an obscenity and lunged at Davis. He was restrained and hustled out. Others in the courtroom gasped and groaned, and Marc Klaas' mother, B.J., broke into heart-rending sobs.

Outside the courtroom, Klaas called the allegation a "vile and sinister and evil act."

Prosecutor Greg Jacobs said he was "nauseated." He said that no such claim had been made during the case and that there was no evidence to support it.

Jacobs, somewhat stunned, delivered a short argument in favor of death, and Hastings confirmed the sentence, telling Davis he had made the usually traumatic decision "very easy."

Meanwhile, defense attorney Lorena Chandler slumped in her chair, her hand over her face.

On Friday, as Davis, inmate No. D11903, adjusted to his new life among California's 433 death row convicts, some victims' rights groups questioned whether the incident indicates a need for more strictures on defendants.

Kelly Rudiger, head of the Doris Tate Crime Victim's Bureau, was considering a bid to deny defendants the right to speak at the sentencing if, like Davis, they did not testify during the trial.

But Peter Keane, chief attorney at the San Francisco public defender's office, said that although there is no law guaranteeing defendants the right to speak, it would be "completely unrealistic" to try to silence them.

Chandler and Davis' other attorney, Sonoma County Public Defender Barry Collins, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. However, Polly's grandfather, Joe Klaas, said Thursday that Chandler had apologized to him.

Los Angeles Times Articles