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Davis listens

Guilty verdict in Klaas murder

Killer could face death penalty

June 18, 1996
Web posted at: 7:14 p.m. EDT

SAN JOSE, California (CNN) -- A jury found Richard Allen Davis guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances in the 1993 death of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, whom he abducted from her bedroom during a slumber party.

The verdict means Davis is eligible for the death penalty. A second penalty-phase trial will be heard by the same jurors, who will recommend either life in prison without parole or death. A judge will later pass the formal sentence. The second trial is set to begin on July 1.

Davis, 42, was found guilty on all counts in Santa Clara County Superior Court including robbery, burglary, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and attempted lewd conduct with a minor.

Marc Klaas

Polly's family sat holding hands as the verdicts were read by the court clerk. Davis, his shirt hanging out of his belt, turned and made an obscene gesture to the courtroom.

The jury of six men and six women returned the verdict after deliberating for approximately one week.

Prosecutors argued that the circumstances of the case -- burglary, robbery, kidnapping and attempted lewdness on a minor -- make Davis eligible for the death penalty. In California, a jury must conclude that a murder is accompanied by at least one such "special circumstance" for it to be a capital crime.

Davis had confessed

During the trial, the jury heard Davis' videotaped confession to police shortly after his arrest in which he admitted he kidnapped and strangled Polly, but says he was "toasted" on drugs and alcohol at the time.

Davis, a state parolee with a prior criminal record, said he was sorry for the slaying, but only after being prodded by police.

His attorneys denied that Davis sexually assaulted the girl -- her body was too decomposed to yield such evidence -- and Davis was not charged with that crime.

Davis took Polly at knife point from her Petaluma home after tying up and gagging her and two friends the night of October 1, 1993. Polly's mother, Eve Nichol, was sleeping in a nearby room and didn't awaken.

Davis led police two months later to Klaas' strangled body, which was buried in a shallow grave near a freeway. The discovery distressed hundreds of residents who had launched a campaign to try to find the missing girl.

Klaas' kidnapping horrified the nation and was a driving force behind the passage of a California law which prescribes a life jail term for people convicted of a third felony crime.

murder scene

Closing arguments

During the trial, prosecutor Greg Jacobs hammered away at Davis' claims that his mind was clouded the night of the kidnapping and he didn't know what he was doing.

Davis targeted and stalked Klaas, and the crime was carefully planned and executed, Jacobs said. He told jurors Davis spent time in Polly's neighborhood before the killing and that the kidnapping was sexually motivated.

"The evidence is clear that he physically touched her ... with the intent to gratify his sexual desire," Jacobs said in his closing argument.

Davis' attorney, Barry Collins, told jurors in his closing argument that the murder represented a burglary gone horribly wrong and was not, as prosecutors charged, the well-laid scheme of a sexual predator.

Jury selection in the trial, which was switched to San Jose from Sonoma County because of extensive publicity, began in mid-February. Testimony began in mid-April.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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