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Run-In With Klaas Murder Suspect Recalled : Courts: Alleged killer of Petaluma girl gave a bizarre story for being in the isolated area before being let go, deputy testifies. Police were unaware of the kidnaping at the time.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than two hours after Polly Klaas was kidnaped from her Petaluma bedroom, two Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies questioned an agitated Richard Allen Davis on a remote country road where his car had become stuck in a ditch during what he described as a midnight sightseeing trip, according to court testimony Wednesday.

One of the deputies, providing the first public account of the episode, said he found Davis’ story bizarre but helped him free his white Pinto and let him go after a check of warrants revealed that he was not wanted and had a valid California driver’s license.

Deputy Michael Rankin said Davis was anxious at the start of the 30-minute interview and testily asked what the deputies were doing in the wooded, isolated area north of Petaluma. When the deputies--unaware of Polly’s kidnaping--told him they were responding to a report of a trespasser, Davis relaxed, and even attempted to drink a can of beer.

“He opened it, and I promptly told him he could not drink in public or in front of us,” Rankin said. Davis tossed the can in the brush, prompting Rankin to order him to pick it up.

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Rankin said Davis told him he was a welder from the Bay Area who became lost while sightseeing during a drive to visit his brother in Mendocino County. Davis had bits of leaves and twigs in his hair, Rankin testified, and his pants were wet.

After towing Davis’ car from the ditch, Rankin used his loudspeaker and ordered him to leave the area. The murder suspect “shrugged his shoulders and drove off down the road,” Rankin said. Months later, Davis told police that Polly had been alive in the woods nearby.

The testimony came on the second day of a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for Davis to stand trial in the abduction and slaying of 12-year-old Polly in October. If convicted of the most serious charges, Davis--a career criminal paroled from state prison just a few months before Polly’s killing--could face the death penalty.

The deputies were summoned by a homeowner, Dana Jaffe, reporting a trespasser on her steep, winding road near the rural enclave of Oakmont. Jaffe said she called authorities after her baby-sitter had a frightening encounter with a stranger on her way home.

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In court, baby-sitter Shannon Lynch identified Davis as the stranger. Lynch said Davis stuck his fingers in her car window and ordered her to get out of her vehicle when she found him stuck in the ditch shortly before midnight.

After she refused to get out, Davis “demanded to know what was up the hill,” said Lynch, who broke into sobs on the witness stand. “I told him there were people up there and that they would call the cops.” Then, Lynch added, “I hit the gas and bailed.”

The next month, Jaffe summoned the sheriff again after she found a pile of clothing and suspicious strips of fabric in the woods near where Davis had been stuck. Those items--which included a pair of Polly’s tights, a man’s dark sweat shirt and a condom--ultimately led authorities to Davis.

Also on Wednesday, an FBI forensics expert testified that fibers from Polly’s clothing and bedroom carpet matched those collected from Davis’ Pinto. Fibers from Polly’s red cotton nightgown were also found on a black sweat shirt worn by Davis on the night of the kidnaping, Special Agent Chris Allen said.

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