San Diego

Calif. Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty Conviction Upheld for Van Dam Murderer

The victim’s mother says the killer’s request for a new trial is “frivolous and without merit.”

The Supreme Court of California upheld a death penalty sentence for David Westerfield on Monday for the 2002 murder and kidnapping of 7-year-old Sabre Springs resident Danielle van Dam. 

Van Dam's disappearance in February 2002 prompted a massive county-wide search conducted by volunteers. Nearly a month later, her badly decomposed body was found in the underbrush off Dehesa Road in El Cajon.

Six months later, Westerfield, who lived across the street from the van Dam family, was convicted of murder in the course of kidnapping, kidnapping and possession of child pornography and sentenced him to death.

The seven-member Supreme Court heard Westerfield’s automatic appeal of that death penalty in November.

In a 490 page legal brief, first submitted seven years ago, Westerfield’s lawyer outlined 28 reasons why his client deserves a new trial.

Among those arguments: the trial judge, William Mudd, wrongly denied Westerfield’s motion to suppress certain evidence; the child pornography charges should not have been heard at his trial, there was insufficient evidence of kidnapping to support that guilty verdict; and Judge William Mudd should have sequestered the jury, to prevent members from being exposed to prejudicial publicity.

Westerfield has remained on death row at San Quentin State Prison for more than a decade-and-a-half. 

He has other legal avenues to challenge the jury verdict. His attorneys have promised a series of appeals, which could last decades.

It’s possible that Westerfield could die in custody before his appeals are exhausted and before he’s executed.

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