SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8/CNS) — According to an opinion released by the Supreme Court of California on Monday, David Westerfield's conviction and death sentence have been affirmed.
66-year-old Westerfield was convicted in 2002 of the kidnapping and murder of San Diego 7-year-old Danielle van Dam. He was also found guilty of possession of child pornography.
In early 2003, a judge sentenced Westerfield to death.
Danielle's mom Brenda van Dam gave News 8 the following statement on the court upholding Westerfield's sentence:
We are not surprised that his automatic appeal was denied because the trial evidence presented by Prosecutors Jeff Dusek and Woody Clarke amply supported conviction and the defendant's legal representation (by three lawyers!) was more than adequate...The (death penalty) appeal process has already taken too long and has been a waste of taxpayer money...The cruel irony is that Judge Mudd, (co- prosecutor) Woody Clarke, and Danielle are no longer alive, but he is...It's time for justice to be served for Danielle.
Danielle went missing overnight on Feb. 1 2002 from her bedroom in her family’s Sabre Springs home. Following a massive search which ended when her body was found weeks later in a remote area in East County San Diego.
Westerfield, who lived two doors down from the van Dam family, returned home two days after the little girl disappeared and told police he had been out of town all weekend, traveling around San Diego and Imperial counties in his motorhome.
At the time of the search for Danielle, Westerfield had voluntarily been interviewed by News 8 anchor and reporter, Steve Price. "I had no idea at that point I was interviewing a guy that was going to be arrested and charged. This struck a nerve with anybody who had a child. If you were in San Diego when Danielle van Dam was taken from her home, you remember this story. It's something you will never forget."
Westerfield was arrested just days before Danielle’s body was found after two small stains of her blood were found on clothes Westerfield had dropped off at a dry cleaner's and also in his motorhome.
All samples matched the girl's DNA profile, according to the court's opinion.
The trial lasted two months and Westerfield was found guilty by a jury on Aug. 21, 2002.
Westerfield was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and possession of child pornography, and jurors found true a special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed in the commission of a kidnapping. The panel's capital punishment recommendation was returned a few weeks later, and formalized by a San Diego judge on Jan. 3, 2003.
The state’s Supreme Court handed down its opinion affirming the conviction and sentence following an automatic appeal on Westerfield’s behalf.
Westerfield's appeal noted several instances where his attorneys felt the trial court erred during the penalty phase of the trial, which is when jurors weigh whether to recommend a sentence of death or life without the possibility of parole.
Westerfield's attorneys also argued that the trial court did a poor job of shielding the jury from outside information regarding the trial, but the Supreme Court ruling says ``there is nothing in the record to indicate that the jury did not continue to abide by the trial court's repeated admonitions and order to avoid exposure to the news and publicity concerning the case.''
Westerfield remains at San Quentin State Prison. His appeals could continue for years to come.