Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Polly Klaas

The Trial

Due to the extraordinary publicity surrounding the case and the passions aroused among locals, a judge ordered Davis' trial moved from Sonoma County, where Petaluma is located, to Santa Clara County.  A jury of six men and six women was impaneled. Davis was charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances.  "Special circumstances," such as kidnapping or sexual assault, are necessary for a defendant to be eligible for execution.  Davis was not charged with rape but "an attempted lewd act on a child."

Lorena Chandler and Barry Collins defended the accused.  Collins conceded in his opening statement that his client had killed the child.  "Evidence in this case will be overwhelming that Richard Allen Davis did kill Polly Klaas," Collins said.  "The defense will not dispute that."  He went on to say that there was no evidence to support a sexual assault.  During the trial, the defense strategy was to suggest that this was a robbery that had gone horribly awry because of Davis' confused mental state.

Richard Allen Davis in court
Richard Allen Davis in court

On June 18, 1996, the jury convicted Davis of first-degree murder with special circumstances.  The only possible sentences were death or life with no possibility of parole.  After the verdict was read, a defiant Davis gave two middle fingers to the courtroom.  

The prosecution put on as witnesses the victim's family to show the damage Davis had done to this family and to buttress the district attorney's argument that Davis deserved the death penalty.

Some jurors were teary when Polly Klaas' father and grandfather described how the child's loss had affected them.  "Everything reminds me," her father, Marc Klaas, said.  "Every time I see a pretty 12-year-old girl, I am reminded of Polly . . . I can't sleep.  I can't concentrate.  Everything's in ruins."  

Eugene Reed, Polly's grandfather, claimed that her murder was even worse for him than serving in the armed forces during World War II.  "We escaped alive from other experiences," the elderly, trembling man said, "but this time we lost a very precious grandchild."

After his courtroom testimony, Marc Klaas was interviewed by CNN.  "This has really been the first opportunity to address the jury and let them know what it means to us to lose a child," Klaas said.  "Unfortunately, it's very difficult to put into words the kind of emotions that flow through somebody as a result of such a loss."

It seemed impossible that Richard Allen Davis could possibly cause the Klaas family any further grief.

But he found a way.


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