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Slain girl's father testifies tearfully, fends off lifestyle attack

Damon van Dam, the father of 7-year-old Danielle, who was abducted and killed, testifies in court.

SAN DIEGO — Raw grief mingled with common titillation at the Danielle van Dam murder trial Wednesday as the slain second-grader’s father took the stand against her accused killer.

Damon van Dam gave a wrenching account of the 7-year-old’s abduction from the safety of her suburban bedroom, but under a relentless cross-examination by a defense lawyer, he bitterly confirmed rumors that he and his wife engaged in swinging, or wife-swapping.

“I have opened my life up — every detail — to try to get my daughter back and now to get justice for her,” a red-faced van Dam said after admitting that he had sexual relations with other women while his wife watched.


Defendant David Westerfield
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against David Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer who lived two doors from the van Dams. They allege he is a pedophile who snatched her from her canopy bed Feb. 2, raped and suffocated her and then dumped her body along a rural road.

Damon van Dam’s grilling Wednesday, the second day of the trial, appeared to be part of a defense strategy to shift the focus away from strong DNA and other physical evidence against Westerfield and toward Danielle’s parents and their lifestyle.

It was unclear how well that approach played with jurors. As defense lawyer Steven Feldman got van Dam to acknowledge intimate relationships with two female guests in his home the night Danielle disappeared and that a third man present was his marijuana dealer, few jurors took notes. And as van Dam stammered with the uncomfortable questions, jurors stared at the lawyer instead of the witness.

During a sidebar conference between Judge William Mudd and the lawyers, van Dam stared at supporters in the gallery, shook his head and then in full view of the jury, slammed his forehead down on the witness box.

The day of testimony that ended in frustration and shame, began in tears. The software engineer choked with emotion as he showed jurors photographs of Danielle’s room, a young girl’s pink and purple dream. Stopping frequently to regain his composure, he pointed out her toy box and shiny white dresser, the "little fluffy hearts" hanging from her ceiling and her snowy canopy bed and lilac sheets.

"She was in her bed right here with her dollies," van Dam told the panel, describing the last time he saw his daughter. An alternate juror clutched her notebook to her chest and wiped at her eyes.


Danielle's room

Van Dam said that on that Friday night, his wife, Brenda, and two friends, identified as Barbara Easton and Denise Kemal, had scheduled a “girl’s night out” at a local bar. During cross-examination, van Dam said he and Kemal had sex in his bed once, a year before, while Kemal’s husband and Brenda van Dam were present. He acknowledged that he and Easton, an airline stewardess, had intercourse once and sexual relations twice. On those two occasions, he said, Brenda van Dam watched.

On Feb. 1, he had agreed to watch Danielle and her brothers, Dylen and Derek. Before the women left, he joined them in smoking a marijuana joint in the garage.

He described the night as typically mundane. He had more pizza and a third beer while playing video games with his sons. Danielle wrote in her journal and read. The dog, Layla, chewed up her bed. Then it was time for sleep. By 10, he said, he had kissed his three children and made sure they were in their separate second-floor bedrooms with their doors open a small crack.

Soon after, he turned in. His wife, Kemal and Easton returned from the bar with two male friends just before two, he said. Easton jumped into his bed and van Dam said he kissed and “snuggled” her for five minutes before joining the other guests downstairs.

He said the guests left within 20 minutes and then he and Brenda went to bed , shutting the dog in their eldest son’s room. They did not, however, check on the children.

Sometime in the three o’clock hour, he said, something woke him up and he noticed that an alarm panel indicated an open door or window somewhere in the house. When he went to investigate, he found the rear sliding door open. He concluded that one of his wife’s friends had opened the door, a conclusion he said he made "quickly and mistakenly."

“Did you check on the kids?” asked Dusek.

“I didn’t check on the kids. I was tired and I didn’t think that door being open was that important at the time,” he said.

The next morning, Brenda van Dam discovered Danielle’s empty bed. Damon van Dam admitted initially lying to investigators about his pot use and his relationship with Easton, but said he told the police the truth when they impressed him with the gravity of the situation.

"I didn’t think it mattered and I didn’t want to get in trouble," he said of the marijuana.

Window to Danielle's bedroom

A girl's room

He also gave jurors the layout of the house and seemed to poke a hole in at least one defense theory — that Westerfield, who barely knew the family, would never have been able to navigate a strange house and find Danielle’s room.

Damon van Dam showed jurors photos of the doors to the children’s three rooms. Derek had a Pokemon sticker on his door while Dylen had a Tarzan photo on his. Danielle’s door was decorated with a heart and two flowers, and immediately upon opening the door, her canopy bed was visible.

Judge Mudd warned witnesses and those attending the trial against wearing mementos of Danielle, including button pins showing her picture. Damon van Dam took his off to testify, stuffing it in the front pocket of his white dress shirt. His daughter’s image was visible through the fabric.

Westerfield’s case moved remarkable quickly to trial. Danielle disappeared four months ago and Van Dam still spoke of his daughter in the present tense.

"She’s just learning to spell," he said. Later he described Danielle reading to her brother Dylen, saying, "She likes to help him learn to read."

Also testifying Wednesday was forensic dentist Norman Sperber, who the prosecution called to bolster their theory that Danielle was suffocated. Sperber said Danielle was missing four front upper teeth, including one later found in the back of her mouth.

Sperber said teeth could have been knocked out during an assault, but might also have fallen out as the body decayed. If that was the case, Sperber said, the teeth should have been located at the spot where she was dumped. The teeth were not.

Medical Examiner Brian Blackbourne, who began his testimony late Wednesday afternoon, is to continue on the stand Thursday morning.

1 posted on 06/05/2002 11:36:25 PM PDT by FresnoDA
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To: MizSterious;spectre;Amore;Travis McGee;BunnySlippers;Doughtyone;Hillary's Lovely Legs;Snow Bunny...
2 posted on 06/05/2002 11:37:42 PM PDT by FresnoDA
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To: FresnoDA
I've been studying Westerfield's driving around that weekend. I can only think of two possibilities:

1. He was just hoping to meet up with some overheated chicks in places he'd had success before, or

2. He was trying to figure out where to dump a body.

If #2, why did he end up dumping her just off a main road? It doesn't make much sense.

14 posted on 06/06/2002 12:26:59 AM PDT by John Jamieson
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To: FresnoDA
From Rick Roberts' page:

Who's Who In The Westerfield Trial
Danielle Van Dam: 7-year old daughter of Brenda and Damon Van Dam. She was kidnapped from her home and murdered, allegedly by David Westerfield, on or around Feb. 1, 2002. Her body was found beneath a tree off the side of Dehesa Road, just east of El Cajon, on Feb. 27, 2002.

Jeff Dusek: Deputy District Attorney leading the State's prosecution of David Westerfield.

George "Woody" Clarke: Assistant DA, and DNA expert. He is Dusek's second chair.

Steve Feldman: Defense attorney representing David Westerfield.

Robert Boyce: Defense attorney, Feldman's second chair.

David Alan Westerfield: the 50-year old neighbor of the Van Dams. He is charged with Murder with Special Circumstances, Kidnapping, and Possession of Child Pornography. The "Special Circumstances" charge reflect murder in the commission of a kidnapping. If Westerfield is found guilty of murder with special circumstance, he will face life in prison or the death penalty.

Brenda Van Dam: Danielle's mother and Damon's wife.

Peter Damon Van Dam: Called by his middle name, Damon is Danielle's father and Brenda's husband.

Barbara Easton: Alleged "intimate" friend of both Brenda and Damon Van Dam. She at Dad's with Brenda and Denise Kemel on Friday, Jan. 25, and with them and Keith Stone, and Rich Brady at Dad's on Feb. 1, 2002.

Denise Kemel: Close friend of both Brenda and Damon Van Dam. She was at Dad's with Brenda and Barbara Easton on Friday, Jan. 25, and with them and Keith Stone and Rich Brady at Dad's on Feb. 1, 2002.

Rich Brady: Friend of both Brenda and Damon Van Dam. He was at Dad's with Brenda, Barbara Easton, Denise Kemel and Keith Stone on Feb. 1, 2002. He supplied Brenda with marijuana.

Keith Stone: Friend of both Brenda and Damon Van Dam. He was at Dad's with Brenda, Barbara Easton, Denise Kemel and Rich Brady on Feb. 1, 2002.

Dan Conklin: Glamis tow truck driver who pulled Westerfield's RV out of the sand on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002.

Judge Mudd: Presiding judge in the capitol murder case against David Westerfield.

Julie Hennis: A stay-at-home-Mom and across-the-street neighbor of the Van Dams.

Karsten Hiemburger: Volunteer searcher for Danielle. He was with Chris Morgan when he found Danielle's body. He took photographs of the body and later turned them over to the DA's Office.

Chris Morgan: Volunteer searcher for Danielle, who found the body of Danielle just off of Dehesa Road on Feb. 27.

Erin Miller Supervisor for Club Sycuan at Sycuan Casino. She testified that Westerfield had, on Oct. 1, 2001, signed up for a Club Sycuan card, proving that he was familiar with the area in which Danielle's body was found.

Larry Alston Sheriff Patrol Deputy and first officer on the scene when Danielle's body was found at Dehesa Road.

29 posted on 06/06/2002 6:14:48 AM PDT by MizSterious
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To: FresnoDA
Thse parents ought to be brought up on criminal charges themselves for endangering the life of this little girl.

Give them life in prison because they took part in the murder of this little girl.

What is happening in this world is absurd and there has to be changes made.

38 posted on 06/06/2002 6:42:44 AM PDT by rambo316
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To: FresnoDA
Maybe someone can explain to me why the parents lifestyle was even allowed in testimony? Is it being allowed in suppose to justify the childs murder because due to her parents lack of morals her life isn't worth as much or what?

I don't agree with their choice of lifestyle, but it is their business and has zip to do with the murder of their daughter. These creeps have started coming right into people's homes taking and murdering their children. This could just as easily have happened to a Baptist minister as a couple of swingers.

63 posted on 06/06/2002 7:07:41 AM PDT by MissAmericanPie
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To: FresnoDA
Been lurking with a few questions. Don't know if I remember my forensic psych. correctly, but I thought that pedophiles usually aren't interested in/able to relate to adults in a sexual way, yet DW has had at least two long-term relationships. Also, if DW IS a pedophile, it seems very unusual that he would start acting out at age 50, that he had never lost control and acted on his impulses previously. And if he HAD acted on them previously, you'd hope at least one past victim would come forward after the news of DW's arrest.

What's the story with DW's son? He had the same access to motor home, computer, etc. as DW. (And his younger age makes him a more likely candidate for "pedophile who hasn't been found out yet.") How carefully was he investigated before he was ruled out as a suspect by LE? DW's behaviour (and route of travel) became erratic after he picked up and started loading his RV. Is it possible that he discovered evidence or a body left by his son (or someone else) in the RV and panicked?

I'm not saying I think DW is innocent--I just don't think he's guilty yet.

128 posted on 06/06/2002 8:08:07 AM PDT by Voss
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To: FresnoDA
What this whole thing case, and the comments, says to me from the defense side is "Members of the jury, the forensic evidence shows that my client killed this little girl, but don't convict him because her parents were bad people." Am I missing a connection here? Who's on trial?
150 posted on 06/06/2002 8:44:00 AM PDT by Quila
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To: FresnoDA
Reap what you sow. Can't get away from it.
436 posted on 06/06/2002 1:09:03 PM PDT by Saundra Duffy
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To: FresnoDA
631 posted on 06/06/2002 4:51:12 PM PDT by Don Myers
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To: All

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702 posted on 06/06/2002 6:04:18 PM PDT by Bob J
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To: FresnoDA
I haven't even begun to go through this thread yet, but I would like to ask a question. Does anyone believe DW will take to the stand? I believe there is much more to his relationship with BVD, and would like to hear his version of events.
759 posted on 06/06/2002 8:30:34 PM PDT by dougherty
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To: FresnoDA
A child was murdered and all you people seem to be concerned about is the swinging lifestyle. Some of you people are actually trying to say the Van Dams deserved to have their child murdered because of their perverted lifestyle. As a parent myself, nobody 'deserves' to have their child murdered regardless of their lifestyle. Some of you people who call yourselves Christians need to wake up and find a little compassion in your hearts and act like Christians.
810 posted on 06/07/2002 5:35:52 AM PDT by Intimidator
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To: FresnoDA
I dont believe him. I believe the murderer did dump her body, but that the dad and mom were in on it. I may get flamed here, but thats my gut instinct.
875 posted on 06/12/2002 8:16:00 PM PDT by RedBloodedAmerican
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