Skip to comments.Bugs: The Best Witnesses? (Westerfield's Son Neal Forced To Testify By Desperate D.A. Dusek!!)
Posted on 07/24/2002 10:44:59 PM PDT by FresnoDA
On one side there are Danielle van Dam's fingerprints, her blood drops, strands of the 7-year-old's blond locks, hair from a dog like her weimaraner and carpet fibers that seem to be from her room. There is child pornography and a convoluted alibi even the defendant calls "weird."
On the other side, the side for David Westerfield's acquittal, there are bugs.
The pile of evidence painstakingly assembled by prosecutors in Westerfield's capital murder case got a jolt last week from an entomologist who suggested that insect evidence from the 7-year-old's body may exonerate the defendant, who is accused of abducting Danielle from her bedroom, killing her and then dumping her body.
Its practitioners say forensic entomology, which stretches back to 13th century China and has gradually gained acceptance in American courtrooms over the past two decades, is both art and science. There are only nine certified forensic entomologists in North America and about 30 more who offer their expertise in criminal cases without certification.
When done correctly, a study of flies, maggots and beetles at a crime scene can yield crucial evidence about a victim's death, including the time and location, whether the victim had drugs in his system, and in some cases even the DNA of the perpetrator.
But more than other forensic sciences like DNA analysis, forensic entomology eschews straightforward analysis. For analysis concerning time of death by far the most common task for entomologists in criminal cases there are no mathematical formulas, no easy calculations. Accuracy depends on the scientist's ability to determine how a host of variables at the crime scene, including temperature, precipitation, time of day, humidity and geography, affected insect life.
"If you are not a very imaginative person as a scientist, you won't go far," said K.C. Kim, a Penn State professor and certified forensic entomologist.
The subjectivity of the field makes for what another forensic entomologist, Jason Byrd of Virginia Commonwealth University, calls "showdowns" professional disputes over results. According to Byrd, haggling over conclusions has become increasingly common in the last three or four years as lawyers have become more familiar with the evidence and how to attack its credibility.
"A court case with a single entomologist is a thing of the past," said Byrd, a certified entomologist who consults on about 100 criminal cases a year.
A "showdown" seems likely in the Westerfield case. Just two days after damaging testimony from the defense entomologist, the San Diego district attorney's office hired M. Lee Goff, an entomologist from Chaminade University in Hawaii, to consult on the case.
The defense expert, David Faulkner, is particularly difficult to attack because he was initially hired by the prosecution. Faulkner, a research associate at the San Diego Natural History Museum, attended Danielle's autopsy and collected insects from her remains.
Searchers found the second-grader in a trash-strewn lot three and a half weeks after she vanished. Her body was badly decomposed and the medical examiner could only offer prosecutors a wide range 10 days to six weeks for her time of death.
Investigators hoped Faulkner could narrow that window to Feb. 2, 3 or 4, the days immediately following Danielle's abduction when Westerfield's activities seemed suspect. Faulkner examined maggots from her body and told authorities the insects began growing 10 to 12 days prior, putting the first infestation between Feb. 16 and Feb. 18. Infestation can start as soon as 20 minutes after a dead body is dumped outdoors.
Faulkner's conclusion did not fit prosecutors' theory. Westerfield was under constant police surveillance from Feb. 5 until his arrest, offering him no opportunity to dump her body in the window of time the entomologist's testimony indicated. Faulkner quickly became a witness for the defense.
The lives of insects
If prosecutors get Goff or another expert to rebut Faulkner's findings, he or she will likely attack the defense expert on how he calculated the post-mortem interval (PMI), entomologist-speak for the first infestation.
Insect life arrives at a dead body in stages. Immediately, flies land on a body. In as little as 20 minutes, they lay eggs. Those eggs hatch into maggots in a day, and those maggots feed on the body. The maggots molt repeatedly, and each stage of larvae is slightly larger, indicating to entomologists how long the insects have lived in the body. Beetles also are attracted to decaying flesh, and the size of their larvae also indicate the time they have been at the body.
But just recognizing the size of the larvae is not enough. Entomologists must also determine the growth rate of the insects. There are two ways to do this. Experts can simply match the size to textbook tables showing the rapidity of growth in a climate-controlled laboratory or they can try to determine the growth rate by themselves. The latter is considered the most accurate, but also the most difficult.
"It has a lot to do with the investigator's experience and intelligence and that has a lot more to do with art than science," said Kim of calculating the PMI.
Among the crucial factors is weather. Hot temperatures mean quick growth, cold temperatures mean slow or no growth. Wind affects the rate as does access to water and other forms of food, like trash cans. Rain and humidity play a role, as well as exposure to sunlight.
In the Westerfield case, prosecutor Jeff Dusek grilled Faulkner about how February's hot, dry weather might have affected his PMI conclusion. Faulkner acknowledged there were fewer flies last winter in San Diego than ever before, but refused to budge off his estimate.
Entomologists also consider unnatural factors, like whether a blanket or sheet around the victim may have retarded insect life. Goff once worked on a case in Hawaii involving a woman missing 13 days. She was discovered murdered and wrapped in blankets. The life stages of the insects indicated a PMI 10 and a half days prior. To determine how the blankets affected the PMI, Goff wrapped a pig carcass in blankets and left it in his backyard. He found it took two and a half days for the flies to penetrate the blanket.
Dusek quizzed Faulkner about the impact of some sort of shroud in the Westerfield case. There is no evidence Danielle's body was wrapped in a blanket, but the prosecutor got Faulkner to admit that a covering, perhaps later dragged away by animals, might have skewed his results.
Will the jury care?
But even when there are disagreements between entomologists on results, they rarely involve as wide a gap as in the Westerfield case.
"A lot of the disagreements involve a variation in one day, two days," said Richard Merritt, a certified forensic entomologist and professor at Michigan State University. "Not over a week and a half. If it's that big a time, someone screwed up."
If the prosecution cannot find an expert who substantially disagrees with Faulkner, the bug evidence would appear to be the defense's chief argument to jurors at closings.
The defense has tried to chip away at the other forensic evidence. Defense lawyer Steven Feldman has suggested Danielle secretly played in Westerfield's motor home and left hair, blood and fingerprints on that occasion. Evidence in his home, the lawyer has hinted, might have been deposited when the girl and her mother sold him Girl Scout cookies. And fiber evidence could have been transferred when Danielle's mother was dancing with Westerfield the night of the abduction.
None of those explanations carry the certainty of Faulker's testimony. But just how persuasive Faulkner's testimony will ultimately be is a subject of hot debate in San Diego, where the case dominates the media.
Former prosecutor Colin Murray said the mountain of other physical evidence pointing toward Westerfield's guilt made the insect evidence little more than a footnote.
"You're asking a lot of this jury to acquit this guy on capital charges based on the presence of bugs," he said. Even without a rebutting witness, Murray said, prosecutor Dusek could undermine the entomological evidence in closings by harping on the subjectivity of the field and asking the panel to instead rely on common sense.
"Common sense tells you, if you're just looking at her body, that it's been out there a long time. It's severely decomposed," said Murray.
But Curt Owen, a retired public defender, disagreed, saying that depending on how the prosecution rebuts the evidence, the case could end in a hung jury or even acquittal.
"It may not be enough to say he's innocent," Owen said, "but it certainly is enough to introduce reasonable doubt."
David Westerfield's only son took the stand against his father Wednesday and denied that graphic child pornography found in the family home belonged to him.
Lawyers for Westerfield, who is facing the death penalty for what prosecutors say was the sexually motivated murder of his 7-year-old neighbor, Danielle van Dam, had previously suggested that computer images of young girls being raped were the property of his son.
But David Neal Westerfield, a college freshman testifying on the day before his 19th birthday, said the only pornography he accessed were pictures of "big-breasted women" and Japanese animations. His father, he said, had his own stash of pornography, which included computer disks containing the child rape scenes.
"I found some [pornography] on his computer and I found some on disks in his office," said the younger Westerfield, known as Neal.
The images on those disks, which detectives found in Westerfield's home office, were so disturbing that they drove some jurors to tears when they were displayed in court last month.
After several days of dry forensic witnesses, Neal Westerfield's testimony offered a moment of high drama in the nearly two-month old trial. Before he was called, the defense formally rested its nine-day case without Westerfield taking the stand, and prosecutors immediately began their rebuttal. The jury is expected to begin deliberating next week.
Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer, looked stricken as his son took the stand, and his body began to shake in an even more pronounced manner than it has at other points during the trial. Neal Westerfield did not look in his father's direction during the testimony.
"I assume you don't want to be here," prosecutor Jeff Dusek asked him at the start of his testimony.
"Correct," he said.
[Judge William Mudd ordered that Neal Westerfield's face not be shown on television nor photographed during his testimony to protect his privacy.]
Both Neal and his older sister, Lisa, Westerfield's children with the second of his former wives, have offered support for their father in brief comments to the local media, but on the stand, Neal Westerfield's testimony mostly seemed to hurt his father.
He said he stumbled across the child pornography while looking for a video game on his father's bookshelf. He said he looked at some but not all of the images.
A defense computer expert previously testified that logs of computer use in the house indicated Neal Westerfield was responsible for much of the pornography. In addition to the son's denial Wednesday, prosecutors also recalled their own expert, James Watkins, who said he found a computerized card file apparently kept by Westerfield that included 200 pornographic Web sites with names like tooyoung2.com and youngvirgins.nu.
In addition to disavowing possession of the child pornography, Neal Westerfield also told jurors that his father deviated from his normal routine the weekend Danielle went missing last February.
The younger Westerfield split his time between his mother's house and his father's, alternating every two weeks. He often camped with his father and knew his habits well.
Westerfield told police that he went on a long, meandering odyssey alone in his recreational vehicle the weekend Danielle vanished. Neal Westerfield said it was unusual for his father to go to the desert outpost of Glamis without dune buggies and other "sand toys."
He also said his father normally parked his RV close to the town of Glamis and had never been as far out in the desert as he was sighted the day after Danielle's disappearance. Prosecutors allege he took Danielle with him in the RV and later dumped her body along a roadside.
Neal Westerfield also suggested his father lied to police about the normal route he took to Glamis. In an interview before his arrest, Westerfield said he took the curving back roads to the desert, but his son told officers they always took a straight highway he believed was Interstate 8. Westerfield told officers Interstate 8 was too dangerous for his RV.
Danielle's fingerprints, hair and blood were discovered inside the RV, and the defense has suggested she left the evidence behind while playing in the motor home before she vanished. But Neal Westerfield said he never remembered Danielle anywhere near the house.
"Never saw her near the motor home?" Dusek asked.
"No," Neal Westerfield replied.
Although the younger Westerfield said nothing about his current relationship with his father, he hinted at anger toward the defense lawyers. He referred to Westerfield's lead lawyer, Steven Feldman, only by his last name and said that during trial preparation the lawyer tried to convince him they had proof he had visited more porn sites than he was admitting to. He also said the lawyer asked him to find the password for one of those sites, but, after talking to his mother, Neal Westerfield declined.
Feldman chose not to cross-examine his client's son at all.
Since the trial began, some callers to San Diego radio shows have suggested Neal Westerfield might be Danielle's killer. On the stand, he painstakingly accounted for his whereabouts the night of Danielle's abduction.
He said he spent the entire night at the house of a friend who was hosting a video game party. The friend, Lynn Lang, and his mother, Jannette Lenamond, took the stand after him and echoed his account.
Earlier in the day, the defense closed out its case by displaying still frames of news coverage of the case. The pictures showed police officers and crime scene technicians standing in several areas outside Westerfield's house after he had become a suspect. Many of the law enforcement agents are wearing identical orange shirts. Among the trace evidence prosecutors say links Westerfield to the crime are bright orange fibers. One fiber was caught in Danielle's necklace and other similar fibers were found in Westerfield's house and RV. Prosecutors never identified the source of the fibers.
Defense lawyer Feldman never directly asserted that the fibers were from the police uniforms, but prosecutor Dusek appeared to anticipate such an argument.
"Were you asked to see if these fibers were the same as the ones we're concerned with here?" he asked the forensic artist, James Gripp, who made the still frames for display.
"No," Gripp answered.
Also Wednesday, a radio reporter was called from her seat in the press box to testify about a strange encounter she had with a defense witness. River Stillwood said she bumped into Patricia LePage, a bar patron who testified that Danielle's mother and Westerfield were "dirty dancing" the night of the abduction, in a courthouse bathroom prior to LePage's testimony.
LePage, who walks with a cane, told jurors she did not take her normal painkillers before testifying, but Stillwood said LePage complained about her back pain and then "she said she needed to take some more medication."
The Jackals Are Back - FDA
THE BITCH IS BACK-ELTON JOHN PARODY!!!
Poor DW, he must be the unluckiest innocent man alive, a VIOLENT CHILD GANG RAPE VIDEO COLLECTOR who just "happened" to have Danielle's fingerprints, blood DNA, hair and fibers show up in his home and RV after she was abducted and murdered.
SO many coincidences. Just like with poor OJ.
SWEET HOME ALABAMA-Lynard Skynard
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