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Jury Gets Danielle van Dam Case

August 8, 2002

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SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A jury began deliberations Thursday in the case against the man charged with killing 7-year-old neighbor Danielle van Dam after prosecutors said the ``smoking gun″ was the victim’s blood found on the suspect’s jacket.

David Westerfield, a 50-year-old self-employed engineer, is charged with kidnapping, murder and possession of child pornography. He could face the death penalty if convicted of killing the second-grader who lived two doors away.

Danielle was last seen on Feb. 1 when her father put her to bed in their two-story home in suburban San Diego. Her nude body was found on Feb. 27 along a rural road east of the city.

The defense argued during the two-month trial that the lifestyle of Danielle’s parents, which included marijuana use and sex with another couple, exposed their home to other people who might be responsible for the girl’s disappearance.

In closing arguments Wednesday, defense lawyer Steven Feldman said it was ``absurd″ to suggest Westerfield could have entered the van Dam home and taken the girl last February without being caught or leaving physical evidence.

Feldman said expert testimony proved Danielle’s body couldn’t have been dumped before Feb. 12, when Westerfield already was under police surveillance. He suggested a third party was involved, noting that a fingerprint found in the van Dam home and a hair found on the body were never identified.

However, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek said Thursday that blood found on Westerfield’s jacket was the ``smoking gun″ needed to prove his guilt. He said Westerfield took the jacket to a dry cleaner two days after Danielle vanished.

``This is the smoking gun ... Danielle’s blood on that jacket,″ he said, pointing to a photograph of the blue, hooded coat. He said the defense had been unable to offer an explanation for the evidence.

The trial captivated much of San Diego, with local television and radio stations broadcasting gavel-to-gavel coverage and talk-radio programs delving into minute details of the case.

Jurors heard testimony from more than 100 witnesses _ from friends who partied with Danielle’s mother the night of the abduction to entomologists who spoke about how bugs found on the body suggested potential times of death.

Brenda van Dam and her husband, Damon, testified about their marijuana use the night their daughter disappeared and previous extramarital sex. But the parents, and prosecutors, asserted their conduct was not relevant to Danielle’s death.

The van Dams later watched the trial with friends from the rear of the courtroom, looking down when details of their daughter’s death or their lifestyle arose. Westerfield appeared impassive throughout the proceeding.

Prosecutors focused on physical evidence they said linked Westerfield to the crime: the discovery of Danielle’s fingerprints, hair and blood in his motor home, and the blood on the jacket.

``He’s guilty to the core,″ Dusek said.

Update hourly