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Execution Sought in Van Dam Case

Courts: Suspect charged in kidnapping, murder of the 7-year-old girl faces trial next month. A gag order is imposed.

April 26, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Prosecutors announced Thursday they will seek the death penalty for David Westerfield in the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, who disappeared from her home Feb. 1.

Westerfield, 50, a self-employed engineer, lived two doors from the Van Dam family in the upscale Sabre Springs neighborhood.

Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst opted to seek the death penalty "after full and careful consideration," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Dusek.

At the same court hearing, defense attorneys surprised Superior Court Judge William Mudd by saying they will not seek to delay the trial, which is scheduled to begin May 17.

"In my 30 years in law, I have never heard of a death penalty case in this or any community to go [to trial] this quickly," Mudd said.

Although he has ruled that the trial can be shown on television, Mudd has continued to seal pretrial motions.

The judge said trying to control what information is released in the case "is like trying to control Jell-O. Once you think you have it contained, it oozes out somewhere else."

Westerfield also is charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of child pornography.

Mudd ruled that the defense cannot have copies of the pornography allegedly seized from their client's home computer.

Dusek had told Mudd that it would be improper for prosecutors to provide copies of the child pornography because duplicating such material is illegal.

He added that prosecutors at trial will introduce evidence showing Westerfield retained pictures of underage girls "engaged in sexual positions."

Mudd also imposed a gag order on all lawyers and witnesses.

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