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Polly’s Hometown Tries to Recover From Sensational Case

April 13, 1996

PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) _ Tucked into a schoolyard corner, the mural commemorating Polly Klaas offers messages of love, bits of philosophy and a picture of the 12-year-old smiling from inside a giant rose.

But the youngsters who helped create the memorial at Petaluma Junior High School no longer pass by every day; they’ve gone on to high school and the perils and delights of adolescence.

That’s not the only change in the 2 1/2 years since Polly’s murder.

The foundation formed in Polly’s name, which once struggled to keep track of donations, now tries to stay solvent as it transforms itself to a long-term agency for missing children.

And as the trial of the man accused of killing Polly moves into high gear Tuesday, with final selection of 12 jurors and five alternates and, possibly, opening statements, residents who once talked about almost nothing else now seem reluctant to dwell on the tragedy.

``People ate, slept and drank this for a year or more. They are trying to protect themselves basically and say, `OK, we’ve got to move on from this,‴ said Jan Mandrell, one of several people working to renovate a theater renamed in Polly’s honor.

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When Polly was kidnapped the night of Oct. 1, 1993, Petaluma responded, shocked a child of their own could be dragged from a bedroom slumber party while her unsuspecting mother slept nearby.

``It’s not supposed to happen here,″ said Julie Grosse, one of the thousands of volunteers who helped look for Polly.

The discovery of her body in early December cut to the quick.

At a memorial service, grief was sorely obvious, from the broken weeping of young girls to the haunted, ashen face of Polly’s mother, Eve Nichol.

Now, however, with the trial of Richard Allen Davis finally under way, questions about the case are met with a more controlled reaction, a narrow range from polite hedging to outright hostility.

``I think it was just so shocking and traumatic when it occurred that people don’t want to have to re-experience that level of trauma,″ said Kim Jamieson, deputy superintendent of schools in Petaluma, a city of about 45,000 located 45 miles north of San Francisco.

``I think people wish that the trial was over with,″ Grosse added.

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In fact, the trial has barely begun.

Davis, 41, was arrested Nov. 30, 1993. Police say he confessed four days later and led them to Polly’s body.

After a preliminary hearing in May 1994, Davis was ordered to stand trial starting Valentine’s Day 1995.

Instead, months of delays followed as defense attorneys requested that the trial be moved out of Sonoma County, where Polly lived, withdrew that request and asked for more time.

Jury selection began July 11, 1995.

In September, after a succession of potential jurors indicated they knew the details of the case and had made up their minds about it, a judge conceded the trial would have to be moved.

The defense argued it should shift to the opposite end of the state, San Diego or Los Angeles. But the prosecutors won their choice of San Jose, only 100 miles south.

The trial opened Feb. 5 in Santa Clara County; jury selection began Feb. 14, a year to the day after the original start date.

By this month, officials had assembled a pool of about 80 potential jurors from which the jurors and alternates are to be selected Tuesday. Opening statements are expected to follow.

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Polly is far from forgotten.

Across from City Hall stands the red-painted church-turned-theater now known as the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center. Polly dreamed of becoming an actress.

So far, fund raising has been slow, said Mandrell, who is with the city parks and recreation department that runs the building. A nonprofit group, Rising Star, formed to help raise money for the project, is planning new productions.

A few steps from the theater, the Polly Klaas Foundation announces its presence with a simple sign embellished by a painted twist of lavender ribbon, the symbol worn by the thousands of people who hunted for Polly.

The new office is in smaller, cheaper quarters.

``We have found that looking for missing kids is really expensive,″ said Grosse, one of two staffers.

After a rift with foundation board members, Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, started his own group, the Klaas Foundation for Children, but Grosse said the two have been able to co-exist.

Last year, the original foundation was involved in 699 cases, 23 of them abductions by stranger, Grosse said.

``Bad things are still happening, unfortunately,″ she said.

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On a cool April day, at the schoolyard wrapped in the silence of spring break, the mural is a testament to youth.

In front of the painted wall, plants surround a boulder with Polly’s name and brief life span chiseled in simple, elegant letters.

On the wall, a poem by grandfather Joe Klaas recaptures the days when the photograph of the girl with the luminous smile seemed to be everywhere.

``My Polly’s face smiles out at me, from every window that I see,″ it begins.

The final verse could be an epitaph:

``She isn’t lost without a trace, as long as I see Polly’s face.″

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