- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

SAN DIEGO (AP) A jury decided yesterday that David Westerfield should die for killing 7-year-old neighbor Danielle van Dam, who vanished from her bedroom in the first of a string of high-profile child abductions across the country this year.
Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer, shook slightly and blinked rapidly as the verdict was read, but showed no other reaction. He faced either execution or life in prison without parole for killing Danielle in February.
Superior Court Judge William Mudd can impose the death penalty only if the jury unanimously recommends it, and he also has the option of reducing the sentence to life without parole. Westerfield also was convicted of possessing child pornography.
The same jurors who convicted Westerfield told Judge Mudd earlier yesterday that they were deadlocked after five days of deliberation, but after further deliberation they returned a unanimous verdict.
"We really wanted David Westerfield to speak to us and give us what his state of mind was," said the jury foreman, who identified himself only as Tony. Westerfield never took the stand in his defense.
After the verdict, one juror left the courtroom to compose herself. The foreman said the death-penalty decision was tough for the jury.
"Each person had to come to peace with that decision," he said. "Everybody had to go through that step, that 'Holy cow, this is real.'"
Danielle's parents, Brenda and Damon van Dam, sat at the rear of the courtroom with their arms linked. Brenda van Dam wept when the jury announced the death penalty. The couple left without speaking to reporters.
Defense attorneys had sought to portray Westerfield as a family man with no prior criminal record who has contributed to society through his patented design work on devices used in medicine and other fields.
Prosecutor Jeff Dusek noted that Westerfield's two ex-wives did not testify on his behalf, and he ridiculed the notion that the engineer deserved special consideration for his work.
Westerfield lived two doors away from the van Dam family in an upper-middle-class suburb. Danielle sold him Girl Scout cookies days before her abduction.
Danielle was last seen Feb. 1, when her father put her to bed in her second-story bedroom, decorated in her favorite colors, pink and purple. Her nude body was found nearly a month later along a road outside the city, too decomposed to determine the cause of death or whether she had been sexually assaulted.
Westerfield became a suspect early on after investigators learned he was at the same bar as Danielle's mother and two of her friends the night the girl vanished. He also left on a trip in his motor home early the next day as police and volunteers searched the neighborhood.
He was convicted after a two-month trial in which the defense suggested that the lifestyle of Danielle's parents put Danielle and her two brothers in danger. The van Dams were in the spotlight during much of the trial after it was revealed they once engaged in spouse-swapping and that they had smoked marijuana the night Danielle vanished.
But prosecutors pointed to what they called a "smoking gun": The girl's blood was found on one of Westerfield's jackets, and her hair was in his bedroom.
Investigators also found Danielle's blood, hair and fingerprints inside his motor home.
During the penalty phase, the 19-year-old niece of one of Westerfield's ex-wives testified that when she was about 6 years old, she awoke one night to find Westerfield touching her and slipping his fingers into her mouth.


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