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Pretrial Secrecy Ignites Legal Clash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors and defense attorneys squared off Wednesday over the need for pretrial secrecy in the highly publicized case of David Westerfield, charged with kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Danielle van Dam. There will be a hearing today with arguments likely over the legality of a police interrogation of Westerfield and a search of his home.

Westerfield was arrested Feb. 22, three weeks after the girl was discovered missing from her bedroom. Her nude, decomposing body was found Feb. 27.

Prosecutors allege that DNA links Westerfield to the crime and that he harbored fantasies about sex with children. He also is charged with possessing child pornography.

Westerfield’s attorneys argued before the 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday that 200 pages of search warrant documents should remain sealed, at least until Westerfield’s trial--a request opposed by prosecutors.

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Defense attorney Laura Schaefer told the appeals court that the records of the police search of Westerfield’s home should remain sealed because the information might taint the potential jury pool.

“Mr. Westerfield’s right to receive a fair trial in which his life may be at stake outweighs the public’s right to know,” Schaefer said.

But Guylyn Cummins, an attorney for the San Diego Union-Tribune, arguing for disclosure, said “publicity does not equal prejudice. You can still find an impartial jury. It’s virtually impossible not to find an impartial jury.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Armstrong suggested a compromise: Release the documents but black out some parts. “A complete seal damages the press’ interest and a complete unseal damages the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” he said.

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The three-judge panel took the arguments under submission and promised a ruling within a few days.

Today, the tables will be turned if defense attorneys argue, as expected, in Superior Court for full disclosure of the employment records of San Diego police detectives. The detectives conducted marathon interview sessions with Westerfield in the days after Danielle was reported missing.

Westerfield’s attorneys allege that police coerced and lied to Westerfield in an effort to manipulate him into not exercising his right to have an attorney present during questioning. Defense attorneys say some of the police who interrogated Westerfield may have a pattern of lying and trampling on the rights of criminal defendants.

Westerfield’s attorney, Robert Boyce, argued that he plans to ask Superior Court Judge William Mudd to rule inadmissible much of the evidence seized at Westerfield’s home and many of the statements Westerfield made to police. Boyce said the truthfulness of police “will be an issue.”

Boyce claims that police failed to advise Westerfield of his rights and ignored him when he “requested or inquired about a lawyer at least 22 times.” Among other things, Boyce said, he wants copies of any psychiatric evaluations of the officers during their police careers.

City Atty. Casey Gwinn opposes the request for the officers’ personnel records. He called Boyce’s request a “fishing trip” and said the officers’ right to secrecy would be violated.


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