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Richard Allen Davis Trial: 1996

A Sordid Past, Anger In The Courtroom, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Richard Allen Davis
Crimes Charged: Murder, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, attempting a lewd act with a minor, and other charges
Chief Defense Lawyers: Barry Collins and Lorena Chandler
Chief Prosecutor: Greg Jacobs
Judge: Thomas Hastings
Place: San Jose, California
Dates of Trial: April 17-June 18, 1996
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by lethal injection

SIGNIFICANCE: The 1993 abduction and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas stunned the nation. Her murderer, Richard Allen Davis, had a string of prior convictions, including two kidnappings. This case helped create public support for tougher sentencing laws for repeat felons. The Klaas kidnapping also focused attention on preventing child abductions and helped law enforcement officials improve their investigative techniques in such cases.

Apretty, dark-haired girl with a dimpled smile, 12-year-old Polly Klaas won fame for all the wrong reasons. Her face appeared in newspapers and on television screens across the country after she was kidnapped from her mother's home in Petaluma, California. On October 1, 1993, while Polly enjoyed a sleepover with two visiting friends, a man broke into the house and abducted her at knifepoint. Soon, a massive manhunt was under way.

For more than two months, thousands of volunteers combed the woods of Petaluma, looking for any signs of Polly. Fliers went out across America with her picture and a composite sketch of a suspect. The media soon dubbed Polly "America's Child," and the case stirred memories of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby in 1932. But unlike that celebrated incident, the Klaas kidnapping did not involve a wealthy, famous family. Polly's abduction reminded the nation that even a "typical" child was not safe in her own home.

The hunt for Polly finally ended on December 4. Police found her body in a shallow grave about 30 miles from Petaluma. She had been strangled. Officers were led to the scene by their chief suspect, Richard Allen Davis, who had recently confessed to kidnapping and killing the young girl.

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