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Westerfield Team Calls Witnesses

Trial: His ex-girlfriend supports some of his defense in Danielle van Dam's death, but says he became physically 'forceful' after drinking.

July 11, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — A woman who once lived with David Westerfield testified Wednesday that his drinking and subsequent dark moods broke up their relationship late last year and that he followed her and made her feel uncomfortable just weeks before the disappearance of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

Westerfield is accused of kidnapping and killing the girl from the Sabre Springs neighborhood after a night of drinking with her mother and others at a local bar.

The witness, Susan L.--her last name was withheld to protect her children--had been summoned by Westerfield's attorneys as a defense witness.

"I still care for him," she said as she buried her face in her hands and wept. On several occasions, she looked at Westerfield with a sad expression.

But during cross-examination she testified that during their four-year relationship Westerfield often became sullen and withdrawn when he was drinking and that he also became physically "forceful."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Dusek presented a transcript of an interview between Susan L. and a police officer in which she said she came home after a night out with a male friend in mid-January and was startled to see Westerfield sitting in his car outside her home.

She told Dusek that the day after the incident she told Westerfield to leave her alone because she felt uncomfortable with his drinking and behavior.

Three weeks later, she learned on television that he was a suspect in the Feb. 2 disappearance of Danielle, whose family lived two doors away from Westerfield in the upscale San Diego suburb.

Asked by Dusek about Westerfield's mood when drinking, she said: "He would become very quiet. Sometimes he would become a little upset." Asked why they ended their relationship, she said, "Because of the drinking."

In a interview taped before Westerfield's arrest, the 50-year-old engineer told police that he was "pretty drunk" the night before Danielle's disappearance and did not remember what happened after he left the bar.

Under questioning by defense attorney Robert Boyce, Susan L. also provided testimony that supported Westerfield on several points.

For example, she said that he "sweated a lot." Police officers have testified that one thing that made them suspicious of Westerfield was that he was perspiring heavily when they first talked to him.

She also testified that it was not unusual for Westerfield to go the desert in his 34-foot recreational vehicle on the spur of the moment. "He's an outdoor person," she said. "He likes the sun."

Prosecutors have suggested that Westerfield's trip to the Silver Strand on Coronado and then to Glamis in the Imperial Valley on the day Danielle was discovered missing is suspicious and may have provided an opportunity for him to dump the girl's body in the rural area where volunteer searchers found it Feb. 27.

Also on Wednesday, an insect expert called by defense attorneys testified that the number and developmental stage of insects found on Danielle's body suggest that her body was left there at a time when Westerfield was being watched by police 24 hours a day. Entomologist David Faulkner, who has testified in dozens of murder cases, said the insect evidence suggests that the body was discarded between Feb. 16 and 18. Westerfield was under round-the-clock surveillance beginning Feb. 5; police followed him, tapped his phone and secretly put an electronic device in his car.

Lead defense attorney Steven Feldman had said that scientific evidence would prove that his client could not have been the killer.

But under cross-examination by Dusek, Faulkner said weather and other factors can influence insect lifecycles and thus pinpointing exactly when the body was dumped is not possible.

Faulkner said that the amount and development of the insects could have been affected by the unseasonably warm, dry weather in San Diego County. Also, he conceded that the flies may not have descended on the body until after animals attacked it.

Criminologists have testified that Danielle's blood, hair and fingerprints were found in Westerfield's home and recreational vehicle. One said on Tuesday that fibers found in Westerfield's home were identical to those from a sheet found near the child's body.

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