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Judge Bars Access to Van Dam Home

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge Tuesday refused to order Damon and Brenda van Dam to let attorneys and investigators for the man accused of killing the couple’s daughter into their home to look for evidence that might help in his defense.

David Westerfield, a neighbor of the Van Dams, is charged with kidnapping and murdering their 7-year-old daughter, Danielle.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Dusek said the Van Dams are adamantly opposed to a request by Westerfield’s defense team for access to their home in the Sabre Springs neighborhood of San Diego. “They do not want that evil in their home again,” he said.

Westerfield, 50, a self-employed engineer, is accused of kidnapping Danielle from her bedroom Feb. 1 and killing her. The child’s body was found Feb. 27 in a wooded area 25 miles from her home.

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“I will not force the family to do something they are opposed to,” said Superior Court Judge William Mudd. But he said he may have jurors go to the home during the trial, set to begin May 17. Defense attorney Steven Feldman asked that, if jurors do visit the home, no memorials or pictures of Danielle be visible. Mudd did not rule on that request.

As lawyers argued over numerous pretrial motions, Dusek for the first time said prosecutors believe that Westerfield suffocated Danielle, knocking out several of her teeth in the process. The county medical examiner testified at a preliminary hearing that the body was too badly decomposed for him to determine how she was killed.

Mudd ruled that evidence about alleged drug and alcohol use by Danielle’s parents be limited to the days before and after the girl’s disappearance. The defense wants to explore what it characterizes as lifestyle issues, a request opposed by prosecutors.

Mudd delayed ruling on a defense request to prohibit alleged child pornography found in Westerfield’s garage from being introduced in court. The defendant faces a misdemeanor charge of possession of child pornography.

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Prosecutors allege that he had sexual fantasies about underage girls, but Feldman says the pornography would unfairly bias a jury against Westerfield and is irrelevant to charges of kidnapping and murder.

“This is a case in which the state is trying to kill Mr. Westerfield,” Feldman said, “and all we can do is protect his constitutional rights.”

Mudd expressed annoyance at local media coverage of the case. He noted recent newspaper and television stories about the “swinger” lifestyle supposedly engaged in by the Van Dams.

“The media in this community cannot exercise restraint, in my humble opinion,” the judge said.


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