Van Dam's Mom Recalls Meeting Suspect

S A N  D I E G O, March 15, 2002 -- After three days of testimony, a judge ordered a man accused of killing a 7-year-old girl whose body was found along a rural road last month to stand trial.

The girl's mother, Brenda van Dam held back tears as she testified Thursday at a preliminary hearing for David Westerfield, 50, who has been charged with kidnapping, murder and possession of child pornography. He has pleaded innocent.

"I have reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Westerfield is guilty," Judge H. Ronald Domnitz said in issuing his decision.

Under cross-examination by the defense, van Dam, 39, at times grew frustrated and repeatedly said she couldn't recall details about events surrounding her daughter's disappearance from the family's home Feb. 1.

"I've been through a lot," she said.

Van Dam recalled meeting Westerfield when she and her daughter, Danielle, went to his home in their north San Diego neighborhood to sell Girl Scout cookies last year.

She testified that she had little contact with the twice-divorced engineer 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 Westerfield's home with Danielle and one of her sons to again sell cookies, she said. As the children explored the home, van Dam said she chatted with Westerfield. He said he often hosted "adult parties" and barbecues and invited van Dam and her husband.

She said she thought it odd Westerfield mentioned "adult parties."

"I didn't know what he meant by that," she testified.

Under cross-examination by the defense, van Dam, 39, at times grew frustrated and repeatedly said she couldn't recall details about events surrounding her daughter's disappearance. "I've been through a lot," she said.

Van Dam said she and her two girlfriends met on Feb. 1 and shared a marijuana cigarette in van Dam's garage before going out.

The girl's father, Damon van Dam, 37, testified he also smoked marijuana with the women in the garage, but went back inside to play video games with their sons while Danielle read a book.

Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that he did not tell police about the marijuana in the initial interviews after Danielle's disappearance.

The three women returned to the bar where she had seen Westerfield the weekend before. She said they saw Westerfield again, he bought drinks for them and later watched them play pool.

At one point, van Dam said she and her friends went to her truck in the parking lot to smoke the rest of their marijuana cigarette.

The three returned to van Dam's home, meeting up with two male friends there. She noticed that a light on the home's alarm panel indicated a door was open; they found a side door on the garage ajar.

After eating pizza, the friends left and Brenda and her husband, Damon, locked up the house and went to bed about 2:30 a.m. without checking on the children.

Later that night, Damon van Dam awoke to go to the bathroom and found that a sliding glass door at the rear of the house was open. "I assumed in my state of drowsiness that one of the other people in the house had left it open," he said.

They discovered Danielle was missing after getting up.

Van Dam said she was "frantic" and the couple searched throughout the house, and the Jacuzzi in back, "places you would never want to look." Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.