Westerfield Guilty in Van Dam Murder
Aug. 21 -- A neighbor of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam was convicted today of first-degree murder and kidnapping for snatching her from her San Diego home and killing her to act out what prosecutors said were his sexual fantasies.
Jurors announced they had reached a verdict in the trial of David Westerfield as they entered their 10th day of deliberations — which was far longer than what courtroom observers expected.
Westerfield was also found guilty of possession of child pornography for materials found on his office computer, which prosecutors suggested was a possible motive in the kidnap-slaying .
Westerfield showed no emotion as the guilty verdicts were announced. Danielle's mother, Brenda van Dam, burst into tears and hugged her husband Damon as they sat in the back row of the courtroom.
Long, Tense Verdict Watch
The same six-man, six-woman jury will also decide whether he will face the death penalty or life in prison. The penalty phase begins next Wednesday. The jurors and all parties in the case will remain on a court-ordered gag order.
Danielle disappeared Feb. 1 and was missing for almost a month before her nude, partially decomposed body was found off a road near an unincorporated town east of San Diego. She was last seen alive by her father, who said he put her to bed at around 10 p.m. Investigators focused on Westerfield, a 50-year-old divorced engineer, who lived two doors down from the van Dam family in suburban San Diego.
They said DNA evidence linked Westerfield to Danielle's kidnapping and slaying. Her blood and fingerprints were found on his clothing and in his motor home and strands of her hair were found in his home, they said.
"He's guilty of this ultimate evil," San Diego Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek told jurors during closing arguments. "He's guilty to the core."
Authorities say Westerfield crept into the van Dam home through an unlocked side garage door and lurked in the girl's darkened bedroom for an hour before abducting her. Prosecutors said Westerfield saw Brenda van Dam, Danielle's mother, at a neighborhood bar that night and targeted the girl to act out his sexual fantasies.