- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

SAN DIEGO The man who kidnapped and murdered 7-year-old neighbor Danielle van Dam was sentenced to death yesterday after the little girl's sobbing mother branded him a "monster" deserving of no mercy.

David Westerfield showed no emotion as a judge imposed the sentence a jury had recommended in September. The 50-year-old engineer declined to make a statement, turning aside the mother's plea for an apology.

"What were you thinking as you killed her? Did she not touch your heart one bit? If not, you are heartless. You are an empty shell," Danielle's mother, Brenda, said as she fought back tears. "It disgusts me that your sick fantasies and pitiful needs made you think that you needed Danielle more than her family."

Danielle was snatched from her bedroom last February in the first in a string of child abductions that worried the nation last year.

Prosecutors said there was no justification for anything less than the death penalty for such an "evil, selfish, cold-hearted child-killer."

Mrs. van Dam wept as Superior Court Judge William Mudd recounted how her daughter's body was found naked and missing teeth. The judge called the crime "extremely cruel and vicious."

"Our precious Danielle was taken by a monster, thinking only of self-gratification and not thinking about the sweet little child he was harming and about how his crime would affect her family, the community and the world," Mrs. van Dam said.

She added: "You do not deserve any leniency, any mercy, because you refused to give it to Danielle."

Damon van Dam, Danielle's father, said he and his family were left with a "hole in all of our hearts that will never heal."

"I'll never get to see her be a doctor or a teacher. I'll miss seeing her going to the prom. I'll miss her graduation. I'll miss seeing her go off to college and seeing what she will become," he said.

Westerfield's attorneys pleaded for a sentence of life without parole, with lawyer Steven Feldman asking the judge not to give in to the "lynch-mob mentality in this community."

Mr. Feldman also argued that there was evidence of misconduct by detectives, who interrogated Westerfield for 16 hours. But the judge said Westerfield suffered "absolutely no, zero, zip, nada" harm from police.

Danielle was last seen Feb. 1, when her father put her to bed in the family's home in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of San Diego. Her nude body was found nearly a month later, too decomposed to determine the cause of death or whether she had been sexually assaulted.

Westerfield, who lived two doors away and bought Girl Scout cookies from Danielle days before her disappearance, became an early suspect.

Investigators learned he was at the same bar as Danielle's mother and two friends the night Danielle vanished. He left in his motor home early the next day as police and volunteers searched the neighborhood.

The girl's blood was found on one of Westerfield's jackets, and her hair was discovered in his bedroom. Investigators also found Danielle's blood, hair and fingerprints inside the motor home.

"How was I to know there was a ticking time bomb two doors away?" Mrs. van Dam said after the sentencing.

During the trial, the defense suggested Danielle's parents had put the little girl in danger by opening their home to other people for sexual trysts and marijuana use.

Westerfield becomes the 617th inmate on California's death row. California has executed just 10 persons during the past two decades, and appeals could stretch on for years.

On Thursday, the van Dams brought a wrongful-death lawsuit against Westerfield to prevent him from profiting if he decides to sell his story.

Mrs. van Dam also said she intended to press state legislators to enact what she called "Danielle's Law" to make anyone who murders a child in the youngster's home automatically eligible for the death penalty.

She also said she hoped Westerfield's fellow inmates share her hatred of her daughter's killer. "I hope he suffers twice, three times, 10 times the pain and fear he put my daughter through," she said.

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