David Westerfield, a 50 year old design engineer, charged with murder and kidnapping in the disappearance of 7 year old Danielle van Dam, who disappeared from her San Diego home in February was convicted August 21, 2002 and now has been sentenced to death. Westerfield was also convicted of possessing child pornography by a jury that deliberated for nearly 10 days.

An autopsy confirmed that the body of a child found by a rural road was that of Danielle. Authorities said they found traces of Danielle's blood in Westerfield's motor home and on an article of his clothing. Danielle was last seen alive when her father put her to bed February 1 at home. She was discovered missing the next morning, eventually leading to a search involving thousands of volunteers that stretched from Mexico to the desert east of San Diego. Initial reports indicated the body had been burned, but authorities declined to discuss the condition of the remains. Her mother, Brenda, testified at a preliminary hearing that she first met Westerfield when she and the girl went to his home selling Girl Scout cookies last year. Van Dam said she had little contact with him until earlier this year, when she ran into him at a local bar while she was out with two girlfriends. Days later, she went to his home with Danielle and one of her sons to again sell Girl Scout cookies. As the children explored the home, Van Dam said she chatted with him. He said he often hosted adult parties and barbecues, and invited van Dam and her husband. Westerfield went on trial for Danielle's murder with prosecutors saying he kidnapped her from her canopied bed and strangled or suffocated her out of a lust for young girls. Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek, in a sometimes chilling and graphic opening statement, told jurors that violent pornography found in Westerfield's home would tell them all they needed to know about his motive in abducting and killing Danielle. Westerfield's 18 year old son, Neal, dropped a bombshell by testifying for prosecutors that his father downloaded child pornography on a computer and even made an index based on sexual content. The son was called as a rebuttal witness by prosecutors after the defense rested its case without calling the defendant. Although it was Westerfield who was on trial, the reputations and livelihoods of Danielle's parents and others have suffered because of their links to the case. The defense attorney, Steven Feldman, made the lifestyle of her parents, Brenda and Damon, the focus of his efforts, starting from his opening statement. Witnesses have testified that the parents and their friends enjoyed a wild night of sex, drinking and pot-smoking on the February evening Danielle was kidnapped. Feldman was trying to show that the Van Dam home was open the night of the abduction and there were others besides Westerfield who could have taken Danielle from her bed and left her molested body in the countryside.

The jurors decided that Westerfield should die for murdering Danielle. They spent days trying to understand what made him kill. Danielle's mother, asked by reporters what she would say to the man who killed her daughter said that if she could bear to hear his voice, she would simply ask him why. The jury struggled for five days before recommending the death penalty.

(San Diego, California)