San Diego judge sentences man to die in killing of girl, 7

Danielle van Dam's family seeks apology at hearing

`You are an empty shell'

Child was abducted from home in February


LOS ANGELES - A judge in San Diego sentenced David Westerfield to death yesterday for the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam as her parents confronted him about their loss.

"What were you thinking as you killed her?" asked her mother, Brenda van Dam, when she was allowed to speak at the sentencing. "Did she not touch your heart one bit? If not, you are heartless. You are an empty shell. You are nothing."

Brenda van Dam suggested that Westerfield, a twice-divorced father of two, "reclaim some decency and apologize" to her family, his children and the community.

But when the judge gave Westerfield, 50, an opportunity to speak, he declined to do so.

In keeping with the jury's recommendation, Judge William Mudd of Superior Court sentenced Westerfield to death for first-degree murder committed with the special circumstance of kidnapping. California law requires that the sentence be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court, delaying the imposition of the sentence.

The case was the first in a series of child abductions and murders to capture national attention last year. Thousands of volunteers joined the search for Danielle, who disappeared from her bedroom after being put to bed by her father the night of Feb. 1. Westerfield, who lived near the family in the San Diego suburb of Sabre Springs, had been seen that night at a bar where Brenda van Dam went with friends, and he spent much of that weekend driving through parts of San Diego and Imperial counties in his motor home.

Westerfield was convicted of murder Aug. 21. In upholding the jury's recommendation of death, Mudd recounted factors including the age of the victim, the fact she was taken from her home in the middle of night while sleeping and the breadth of the evidence.

"The victim's hand print was found above the bed in the motor home as well as her hair being found in the sink of the motor home," he said. "Her blood was found both on the floor of the motor home and on the defendant's jacket."

Mudd also noted that Danielle's body, which was found nearly four weeks after her disappearance, was unclothed and that some of her teeth were missing, most likely because of a trauma to her face.

"The weight of this factor is of enormous magnitude," he said.

Steven Feldman, the lawyer representing Westerfield, sought leniency for his client, noting that Westerfield had requested a speedy trial to help ease the pain to the community.

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