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The judge rejects the petition to overturn the death sentence of the man convicted of killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Marc wears the pin (Via Abraham Miller/Getty Images)

On Friday, a California judge rejected a request to overturn the death sentence of Richard Allen Davis, who in 1993 murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas after kidnapping her from her bedroom at knifepoint, a crime that deeply shocked the country.

Jurors convicted Davis in 1996 of first-degree murder and several other serious charges related to the kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and attempted lewd conduct with a child.

At the time of Polly Klaas’s abduction and murder, Davis was on parole and had a long history of kidnapping and assault dating back to the 1970s. He was sentenced to death.

In February, Davis’s lawyers argued in court that his death sentence should be reconsidered due to recent changes in California’s sentencing laws, which have eliminated certain enhancements.

A bag of Polly Klass pins (Via Abraham Miller/Getty Images)

They also pointed to California’s current halt on executions. Governor Gavin Newsom halted executions in 2019, criticizing the death penalty as discriminatory against mentally ill defendants and those who are Black, brown, or unable to afford adequate legal representation. However, a future governor could reverse this decision.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office opposed Davis’s petition, arguing in court filings that the changes in sentencing laws do not apply to Davis’s death sentence for Polly Klaas’s murder.

Deputy District Attorney Sarah Brooks asserted on Friday that Davis’s lawyers were misinterpreting a law passed in 2022, which allows for re-evaluation of sentences involving specific enhancements. She characterized their petition as an indirect challenge to Davis’s 1996 conviction and death sentence.

Judge Benjamin Williams sided with the prosecutors and rejected the request. He stated that rather than seeking a new sentencing for Davis, the defense was attempting to nullify the punishment phase of the trial. Davis did not attend the hearing.

Marc Klaas, Polly Klaas’ father, reacted with a gasp when the judge announced his decision. He was in court with about a dozen supporters wearing buttons displaying Polly Klaas’ photo or red T-shirts with the Klaas Kids Foundation logo. Klaas expressed relief and gratitude toward the prosecutors and the judge.

Marc Klass and Polly Klass outside Santa Clara County Superior Court (Via Abraham Miller/Getty Images)

“Our judge and our prosecutor were very firm in their arguments and in their decision, leaving no other place for this man except to hell, of course,” Marc Klaas told reporters after the hearing.

Davis abducted Polly Klaas from her bedroom in Petaluma, located 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of San Francisco, in October 1993 and strangled her to death. On that night, she was having a slumber party with two friends while her mother slept in a nearby room.

Her disappearance triggered a nationwide search involving thousands of volunteers. Davis was arrested two months later and directed the police to the child’s body, which was discovered in a shallow grave 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of her home in Sonoma County.

This case played a significant role in California’s adoption of the “three strikes” law in 1994, which imposed longer sentences on repeat offenders. The proposal was approved by lawmakers and voters.

California has not carried out any executions since 2006, during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor. Despite a ballot measure in 2016 aimed at expediting the process, no death row inmate has faced imminent execution.

Since California’s last execution, its death row population has grown, housing one-fourth of all condemned inmates in the United States.

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