- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 3 (UPI) — David Westerfield was reviled Friday as a smug "monster" and "evil stranger" by the parents of Danielle van Dam as he uneasily waited for a San Diego judge to sentence him to death as expected for the kidnapping and murder of the 7-year-old girl.

After Damon van Dam sobbed about the lost prom nights and wedding day his daughter would never see during Friday's sentencing hearing, Danielle's mother, Brenda, tearfully tore into Westerfield for kidnapping the child and killing her for sexual gratification.

"To know that someone knew where she was — an evil stranger — I felt like my heart would break in two," Brenda van Dam said in urging the death penalty for her former suburban neighbor. "Our precious Danielle was taken by a monster seeking self gratification. You sat by smugly while thousands of people searched for Danielle."

Danielle disappeared from her bedroom on the night of Feb. 1, 2002, triggering a massive search effort by police and volunteers that ended nearly a month later with the discovery of her decomposed remains along a rural road 45 miles from the van Dam home in the suburb of Sabre Springs.

"I have so much hate and anger in my body for him, I can only hope that when he gets to San Quentin, the other inmates have that same hate and anger for him," Brenda van Dam said outside the courtroom.

Westerfield, 51, an engineer, was convicted Aug. 21 of kidnapping, possession of child pornography and murder with special circumstances, which in California qualifies a convicted defendant for execution by lethal injection. Prosecutors cited fingerprints and hair from Danielle that were found in Westerfield's bedroom and motor home as well as small blood spots on his jacket and in the motor home that were identified as Danielle's through DNA analysis.

Westerfield had left his home the morning Danielle was discovered missing and took a two-day trip across San Diego County in the motor home where prosecutors believe Danielle was hidden.

When he returned home, the neighborhood was filled with police, media crews and volunteers looking for Danielle. In television interviews at the time, Westerfield appeared mildly surprised at the commotion and at one point asked if he could get a cap to cover up his balding head while being photographed. He told police "anyone who would do this sort of crime should be taken out and shot immediately."

Brenda van Dam told Westerfield in court that she took some satisfaction in the fact that his actions would cause him to feel something similar to the pain she felt because his own adult children would "move away and change their names" while always bearing the shame of having a father in prison.

"Why didn't you let her go? Why didn't you drop her off?" she asked as Westerfield fidgeted uncomfortably in his black and white sports jacket and starched white shirt. "If you had done so, she would be home with her family and you would not be facing death."

Westerfield will likely be facing death for several years as the sentence winds its way through the state's mandatory appeals process. When he is moved to San Quentin in the next 10 days to the custody of the warden, Westerfield will become the 617th inmate on death row where the average wait for execution is 16 years.

Defense attorney Steve Feldman asked Superior Court Judge William Mudd to ignore the jury's recommendation and sentence his client to life without parole, arguing that the appeals process would repeatedly open the wounds of the van Dam family and the San Diego community. He also alleged that police misconduct and a media feeding frenzy had tainted the case against his client.

"The high road in this case is life," Feldman said. "I ask you to take the high road. Don't be swayed by this lynch-mob mentality."

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek responded to Feldman: "I'm absolutely certain this case was tried regardless of the media. This was not a politically motivated case; this was a criminally motivated case."

Although Mudd also took irritated swipes at the media "pundits" he has accused of pandering to their audience and endangering Westerfield's due process, he declined to overrule the jury's death penalty recommendation.

Mudd said from the bench that the allegations had been discussed during hearings outside the presence of the jury and that Westerfield's case had not been harmed.

"The guilt evidence is overwhelming," the judge said. "There is nothing worse than taking a child out of her own bedroom. He is deserving of the death penalty, and it should not be reduced."

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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