Richard Allen Davis

Richard Allen Davis (born June 2, 1954) is an American convicted murderer whose criminal record fueled support for the passage of California's "three-strikes law" for repeat offenders and the involuntary civil commitment act for sex offenders and predators. He was convicted in 1996 of first-degree murder with special circumstances (burglary, robbery, kidnapping, and an attempted lewd act upon a child under the age of 14) of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Davis abducted Polly on October 1, 1993, from her home in Petaluma, California and murdered her a few hours later; he led investigators to her mummified and skeletonized remains on December 4 of the same year, the day before searches for her body were to recommence.

Richard Allen Davis
Richard Allen Davis (prison photograph) - 20070615.jpg
Davis in 2007
Born (1954-06-02) June 2, 1954 (age 68)
Criminal statusOn death row
Conviction(s)First-degree murder with special circumstances (murder committed during the commission of burglary, robbery, kidnapping, and murder committed during the attempted commission of lewd act upon a child under the age of 14)
Criminal penaltyDeath

A Santa Clara County jury rendered a verdict of death on August 5, 1996. After the verdict was read, Davis stood and made an obscene finger gesture at the courtroom camera with both hands. Later, at his formal sentencing, he read a statement during which he claimed that Polly had said to him, "Just don't do me like my dad," right before he killed her. There is no evidence to support this. Polly's father, Marc, attempted to lunge at the defendant but was restrained by the bailiffs, leaving the courtroom after to avoid causing further commotion. Judge Thomas C. Hastings proceeded to formally sentence Davis to death, saying "Mr. Davis, this is always a traumatic and emotional decision for a judge. You made it very easy today by your conduct."[1] As of March 2022, he remains on California's death row in the Adjustment Center at San Quentin State Prison.


Davis was born to Robert Davis and Evelyn Smith in San Francisco, the third of their five children. He has two older brothers named Donald and Ronald and two younger sisters named Darlene and Patricia (who is deceased). He is of partial Northern Paiute heritage through his maternal grandmother, Norma Wasson Johnny, with whom he and his family lived for a time before his father moved them into a house in La Honda.[2][3]

His early life was disadvantageous; his parents were both alcoholics[4] and his mother had once punished him and his brothers for smoking by burning their hands on a hot stove. His mother had also held his hands to a hot stove for playing with matches when he was three.[5][6] He witnessed many violent domestic disputes between his parents, who separated when he was 9, leading his mother to take him and his siblings back to their maternal grandmother.[3] The couple divorced when Davis was 11, and the children were given the choice of whom they would like to live with; Davis and his sisters chose their father while his brothers chose their mother, although Donald would later join his father. Robert, a longshoreman, was frequently unable or unwilling to care for his children, so he had them shuttled among family members, hired caretakers, and women he was romantically involved with.[7] Robert was mentally unstable and suffered from hallucinations; he was reported to have taken a gun outside the home and shot at mirages. He would also beat Richard, breaking his jaw on one occasion and pushing him through an interior wall on another, and was known to be harsh with the others.[3] Robert remarried twice, and Richard resented both of his stepmothers.[6]

When he was 14, Richard's 10-year-old sister Patricia died of an illness. By the time he entered his teens, Davis was already involved in criminal actions. When he was 12 he was placed on probation for burglary and forgery, and for burglary again when he was 15. He dropped out of school in his sophomore year of high school.[8] He told a psychiatrist that stealing relieved whatever "tensions" were building up inside him.[9] At 17, when Davis was in court for a motorcycle theft, a judge told him that he could either go to the California Youth Authority or join the United States Army. He chose the latter and received a general discharge after 13 months' service.[10][11]

On October 12, 1973, Davis went to a party at the home of 18-year-old Marlene Voris. That night, Voris was found dead of a gunshot wound. There were seven suicide notes at the scene and the police concluded that she committed suicide,[8] although friends of Voris believe Davis murdered her.[8] In 1977, he told a psychiatrist that her death had deeply affected him and he had been hearing her voice in his head and that at times another woman's voice would appear, telling him that she wanted to be assaulted or robbed or raped.[10] A few weeks after Voris' death, Davis was arrested for attempting to pawn property he had stolen. He confessed to a string of burglaries in La Honda and served six months in the county jail. Five weeks after his release, on May 13, 1974, he was arrested for another burglary. He was sentenced to 6 months to 15 years in prison; however, he was released on parole after serving a year of his sentence.[10]

Davis has been diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and schizoid personality disorder.[3]

In July 2006, Davis was found unconscious in his cell following an opiate overdose, but was resuscitated.[12]

On June 1, 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Davis' death sentence. Davis had argued that his jailhouse confession was inadmissible because it was given without an attorney present. The court ruled this was justified by the public safety exception to Miranda v. Arizona. His lawyer, Phillip Cherney, told reporters he intended to ask for a rehearing and that he would be lodging a habeas corpus appeal with state and federal courts.[13]


  1. ^ "Before Being Sentenced to Die, Killer Disrupts a Courtroom". The New York Times. New York City. September 27, 1996. p. A-16. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  2. ^ "Norma Wasson Johnny (1906–2006)". Retrieved February 21, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d "People v. Davis – 46 Cal. 4th 539, 208 P.3D 78, 94 CAL. RPTR. 3D 322". Supreme Court of California Resources. Stanford, California: Stanford Law University. June 1, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  4. ^ Curtius, Mary (July 2, 1996). "Lawyer Argues Against Death Penalty for Davis". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California: Tribune Publishing. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  5. ^ "Jurors ask judge to sentence Polly's killer to die". The Tuscaloosa News. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: New York Times Company. August 6, 1996. p. 13.
  6. ^ a b Dougan, Michael (July 16, 1996). "Davis' sister recounts his traumatic childhood". The San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  7. ^ Dougan, Michael (July 11, 1996). "Davis's turbulent youth is detailed by relatives". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c "Police ask if Klaas suspect killed woman". Times-News. December 14, 1993. p. 6A.
  9. ^ Warren, Jennifer; Paddock, Richard C. (December 4, 1993). "Suspect's Palm Print Found in Klaas Home". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Fields-Meyer, Thomas (May 13, 1996). "Odyssey of Violence". People. New York City: Time Inc. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  11. ^ "RICHARD ALLEN DAVIS' LIFE OF CRIME". The San Francisco Chronicle. August 6, 1996. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  12. ^ "Polly Klaas' killer survives opiate overdose". Associated Press. July 25, 2006. Archived from the original on August 30, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
  13. ^ "Davis Death Sentence For Klaas Murder Upheld". KTVU. February 26, 2009. Archived from the original on August 30, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012.

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