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Lawyer Speaks on Slain Calif. Girl

May 8, 2002

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SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A 7-year-old girl who disappeared from her bedroom was sexually abused and may have been suffocated before her body was dumped beside a road, a prosecutor said Tuesday at a pretrial hearing.

Medical examiners have been unable to determine what caused Danielle van Dam’s death, but autopsy photos show that several of her front teeth were missing, suggesting they were knocked out, possibly during suffocation, said prosecutor Jeff Dusek.

Danielle vanished from her bedroom in early February. Volunteers found her nude body along a rural road three weeks later.

Investigators said they found traces of Danielle’s hair, fingerprints and blood inside the motor home of her neighbor, David Westerfield.

The 50-year-old engineer has pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and possession of child pornography. Selection of 12 jurors and six alternates is scheduled to start May 17.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge William Mudd ruled that the court will continue to seal documents related to the lifestyles of Danielle’s parents. Mudd said the documents could taint potential jurors and he scolded the media for what he called their ``lurid″ obsession with unsubstantiated rumors about the ``swingers″ lifestyle of Brenda and Damon van Dam and the man accused of killing their daughter.

``The right of a fair trial to both sides in this case is paramount to the public’s lurid interest,″ the judge said.

The van Dams have declined to comment on their lifestyle.

At a preliminary hearing in March, Brenda van Dam testified that Westerfield, who lived two doors away, often held ``adult parties″ and barbecues and invited the van Dams to participate.

Under cross-examination, a defense attorney suggested she and her husband were swingers, but the judge ruled the line of questioning was irrelevant.

The Union-Tribune and other media outlets are fighting to have all motions in the case unsealed and the hearings opened to the public.

Update hourly