Legislating with a vengeance
Criminals in California now face life sentences after their third offence under the `three strikes, you're out' law. Richard Kelly Heft reports
Wednesday 26 April 1995
Polly Klaas was 12 when she was abducted from a slumber party in sleepy Petaluma, California. Her accused assailant, Richard Allen Davis, who had two previous convictions for kidnapping, seized her at knife-point after binding the other girls with rope and threatening to slit the throat of anyone who made a sound.
Polly was found 65 days later. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. It is not known how long she lived after being abducted, nor what horrors she endured during that time - no father should have to ponder such questions.
"I can't sleep on those nights," says Mr Klaas. "I try very hard not to think about that, but sometimes I can't stop myself."
The kidnapping of Polly Klaas, a beautiful girl with warm brown eyes, captured the nation's attention in October 1993. Within weeks, the Klaas family had received "several hundred thousand dollars" in donations to help in her search. Police and hundreds of volunteers launched the largest manhunt in US history before Davis was tracked down in December 1993.
By contrast, the murder of a another young woman in California, 16 months before, was barely noted beyond the small town where it occurred. In a state where 4,000 murders are committed every year, only a few receive the media attention they deserve.
"If it was mentioned in the LA Times, it was behind the pet obituaries," says the woman's father, Mike Reynolds.
Kimber Reynolds, 18, was about to enter her car, which was parked in front of a busy restaurant in Fresno. Two thugs, high on methamphetamines, rode up to her on a stolen motorcycle, pinned her against the door of her car and demanded her purse. When she refused, probably because she was in front a restaurant full of witnesses, one of the assailants drew a .357 magnum from under his coat, pointed it at her head and pulled the trigger. They left her purse on the roadside next to her body.
Though on the surface these killings are unrelated, they will forever be intertwined - through the campaign for criminal reform that swept California after Polly Klaas's abduction.
Californians will pay dearly for these deaths. The passage of the "three strikes you're out" bill last March, of which Mr Reynolds was the leading proponent and spokesman, was triggered by the Klaas murder. The bill, which mandates a 25 years-to-life sentence for a third felony conviction, will cost billions to implement. Estimates from the California Department of Corrections show the state will need to build 15 prisons over the next five years to hold the extra inmates, at a price tag of $4.5bn (£2.8bn). The prison population is projected to grow by more than 70 per cent as a result of this law.
When "three strikes" was reviewed by the California legislature, it was buried by the committee. Mr Reynolds and other supporters then decided to take the bill public and have it approved as a voter initiative. To do so required registering a 385,000-signature petition, but after weeks of campaigning the group had collected fewer than 20,000 names. Despite extensive efforts to raise the profile of the bill, including radio and television interviews and ballots distributed through newspapers, prospects for success within the allotted 150 days looked dim.
Then the body of Polly Klaas was discovered.
"The next day we couldn't answer the phones fast enough, we were getting 1,000 phone calls at a time. In fact, we cooked the phonelines," Mr Reynolds says. Eventually, the group brought in 18 operators to handle the requests to sign petitions.
"Three strikes" went on to become the fastest-qualifying voter initiative in state history, winding up with 840,000 signatures. Aware of the mounting popular support, the state legislature revived and approved "three strikes" on the day organisers submitted their petition.
Ironically, although his only child's death sparked the passage of the law, Mr Klaas has come out against "three strikes", which he says casts too wide a net and will put too many non-violent offenders behind bars. However, he says he will not waste time fighting to improve the law. His life's work is devoted to avenging his daughter's death by saving other children from a similar fate. To accomplish this, he had been working with the Polly Klaas Foundation, which he founded with the money that poured in after Polly's abduction. But Mr Klaas recently left the foundation, after months of feuding and the establishment of his own charity, which sought funds from many of the same donors.
While Mr Klaas's crusade has had its high notes - he was invited by President Clinton to the signing of the national crime bill, he has testified before Congress and become a respected commentator on child safety legislation - he remains deeply tormented by his daughter's death.
Few ties to his life before the abduction remain. He has given up his car rental business and says he finds it difficult to relate to old friends or to make new ones.
"Life after Polly's death has been hideous," he says "Polly meant more to me than anyone. What I have left is a closet full of clothes, an album of photos and memories that fade."
Asked for his feelings about the accused killer, Richard Davis, Mr Klaas does not hesitate: "I'd like to waste the f ..."
Mr Reynolds has dedicated himself to legislative reform since his daughter's death. "The question I have always asked is, `Where did the system go wrong and what can I do to straighten it out?' " He was with his daughter in the 26 hours she spent on life support before she died.
"Kimber's death has left a hole in our hearts," he says. "I made a promise that I would do what I could to make sure this didn't happen to another family. That's the promise I kept with `three strikes'."
Had the law already been in effect, his daughter's killers, with extensive histories of violent crime, would almost certainly have been behind bars at the time she was attacked.
Mr Reynolds is unconcerned that "three strikes" will lock up too many non-violent felons. In a recent Los Angeles ruling, Jeremy Dewayne Williams, a man with five previous felony convictions, was caught stealing a piece of pizza - and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Opponents of "three strikes" cite the case as one of many examples which show the law is draconian and will lock up too many people for the wrong reason.
Mr Reynolds disagrees. "The positive side of the pizza guy is that every prior felon in California sees that case on TV and says to themselves, `Goddamn - they aren't kidding.' They are saying `I better get outta this state'. "
But "three strikes" has spread rapidly since its approval in California. Similar measures are on the books in 14 states, with New Jersey and South Carolina approving such statutes just last month. The estimated tab in New Jersey? More than $2bn, with a three-time loser receiving a bone-chilling 40-year sentence. Chuck Haytaian, a New Jersey Assemblyman, says: "The concept is simple: commit three violent crimes and you will spend the rest of your life in prison."
Mr Reynolds continues to push for reform of California's justice system. His latest project, which has the blessing of the state district attorney's association, would allow non-unanimous jury verdicts - a 10 to two or even nine to three vote - in all but death-penalty cases. In California, 14 per cent of jury trials ended in hung juries last year, while in neighbouring Oregon, which allows non-unanimous verdicts, the result was less than 1 per cent.
This could be important with "three strikes" on the books as defendants are increasingly insisting on jury trials in the hope of acquittal, rather than accept a plea-bargained conviction.
Mr Klaas is directing his efforts at the development of databases to track and monitor violent felons and the promotion of sex-offender registration laws. He complains that due to the cost of "three strikes", funds are no longer available for preventive programmes such as New York's recently passed "Megan Kenka law". The law, named after a girl sexually assaulted and murdered by a convicted paedophile who lived across the street from her, makes it mandatory for sex offenders to register with the communities where they live.
"We've had some successes," he says. "But the price has been too high. Children shouldn't have to lose their lives to get these laws put in place. There are too many laws named after kids who are already dead."
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
Motorists will need a code to hire a car abroad
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park