Judge denies Richard Allen Davis’ bid to overturn death sentence after Polly Klass killing

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A Santa Clara County judge on Friday denied a request to vacate a death sentence imposed on Richard Allen Davis, who was convicted of killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas in 1993 after kidnapping her from her bedroom at knifepoint in a crime that shocked the nation.

Judge Benjamin Williams said no to Davis’ bid to “vacate the jury verdict” in sentencing him to death decades ago. 

Williams said Davis’ petition was a “collateral attack on the death sentence.”

The 69-year-old did not appear personally in court. 

“I am immensely grateful to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office…for zealously advocating for justice for my daughter Polly, and Judge Benjamin Williams for rightfully denying this latest ridiculous motion filed by Polly’s murderer,” Polly’s father, Marc Klaas said after the judge’s decision.

Klaas reminded everyone that Davis gave the middle finger on the day he was convicted on June 18, 1996. 

“Davis’s request for resentencing almost 28 years later is a betrayal of the criminal justice system and the equivalent of this psychopath once again giving us the middle finger,” Klaas said in his statement.

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 said that Davis’ attorneys’ arguments are “nonsensical” and that the laws they are citing don’t apply to Davis’s death sentence for Klaas’ murder.

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. 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.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.