- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

SAN DIEGO (AP) The father of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, who was taken from her bedroom and murdered by a neighbor, took the stand at the killer's sentencing hearing yesterday to talk about his daughter.
Danielle loved school and playing the piano, and talked about becoming a teacher or a veterinarian, Damon van Dam told the jury in a subdued voice.
"She wanted to be a mommy. She loved baby dolls," he said.
His daughter's abduction Feb. 2 left the family devastated and her two brothers frightened and more introverted, he said. They now share a bedroom, and "we make sure everything's locked up real tight now."
The jury that last week convicted David Westerfield, 50, of kidnapping and murdering Danielle began hearing the penalty phase of his trial yesterday to determine whether he deserves the death penalty. He faces either death by injection or life in prison without possibility of parole.
In opening remarks, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek asked jurors to recommend a sentence for Westerfield "based on what he deserves."
"You will be able to consider what the defendant did to Danielle van Dam, to her parents and to the community at large," he said.
Defense attorney Steven Feldman said he would call witnesses to talk about his client's "wonderful, caring" side and about how medical devices invented by Westerfield, a self-employed design engineer, had helped many people have better lives.
"We don't try to excuse the crime. There is no excuse," Mr. Feldman said. "But David Alan Westerfield is not the worst of the worst."
The defense attorney appealed to jurors who may hold lingering questions about Westerfield's guilt.
"We don't question your verdict, but we do continue to have doubts," he said. "This is now a life-or-death decision."
On the stand, Damon van Dam recalled feelings of "shock and disbelief" when Danielle disappeared.
"Sometimes it seems like years since February 2nd," he said. "Sometimes it seems like minutes."
Danielle's disappearance prompted a massive search involving thousands of volunteers and police. Her body was found nearly a month later along a rural road east of San Diego, too decomposed for the coroner to determine the cause or exact time of death.
Yesterday, the first witness called by prosecutors was Danielle's teacher in kindergarten and first grade, who recalled the youngster as "a sweet, polite, hardworking little girl."

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