Marc Klaas leads charge against Death Row inmates' online posts
It used to be that a Death Row sentence meant being cut off from the outside world, preventing all but those receiving the occasional call or letter from ever hearing from prisoners.
But the Internet has changed all that, ushering in what one expert calls a "democratization" of communication.
Aided by groups opposed to the death penalty, such inmates as Richard Allen Davis, the killer of Polly Klaas, and Scott Peterson, convicted of killing his wife and unborn baby, have been sharing thoughts, interests, even art with the outside world on public Web pages.
It's legal, and controversial.
"Greetings with a smile," writes Davis in an ad for pen pals on one Web site. "I was just wondering could there be someone out in the world who would be with an open mind."
He continued: "Could there be anyone who could take the time to see for themselves, just who I really am."
Marc Klaas, father of the 12-year-old Petaluma girl Davis murdered, said he knows full well who Davis is.
He's angered by blog-style prisoner sites devoted to spreading the words of inmates.
"It's a travesty. It's an embarrassment. It's outrageous," Klaas said. "Every victim family that says it opens up old wounds is absolutely correct."
Klaas wants to restrict the ability of prisoners to communicate through the Web. But it's an unlikely result, considering Death Row inmates are already denied computer access and the postings are made indirectly by "flying a kite," as many prisoners refer to mailing a letter.
The basic policy within the California Department of Corrections is that "as long as they're not 'revictimizing' society, we don't have the right to interfere with their freedom to communicate," said Lt. Sam Robinson, a spokesman for San Quentin Prison, where Davis and Peterson are on Death Row.
The law does not extend to the emotional harm Klaas said he experiences when he sees writing and photos of the shirtless and tattooed Davis posted by supporters on Davis' Web page.
"At some point, you just gotta stop giving these guys access, rights and ability to influence society," Klaas said. "Society has to extend their punishment to taking away that ability."
The abduction and murder of Polly Klaas triggered nationwide changes, including helping to bring to California the Amber Alert system and lengthier prison sentences for repeat offenders -- the "three-strikes" law. Similar laws were enacted in at least 25 states.
But behind bars, free speech cannot be curtailed.
It's a First Amendment issue, Robinson said. While the movements of Death Row inmates are more restricted than other prisoners, they have the same legal right to communicate, he said.
Their letters and phone calls are monitored by prison officials, who look for communication that would be "a direct threat to society as a whole," Robinson said.
Officials look for criminal activity such as threatening witnesses, or orchestrating crimes such as putting out a hit on someone through coded messages.
Since his daughter's death, Klaas has led efforts to find missing children, formed the Klaas Kids foundation and pushed for legislation restricting inmates' ability to operate businesses from behind bars.
This week, he's fielded calls because of news reports sparked by an article in the Los Angeles Times' technology section on Death Row "bloggers."