Originally Published: August 23, 2002 3 p.m.
The guilty verdict in the murder of 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam in San Diego, Calif., proves that some California juries know how to do it right.
The jury Wednesday convicted self-employed engineer and neighbor David Westerfield on charges of kidnapping, murder and possession of child pornography after a months-long trial and deliberations that spanned 10 days.
This jury had more than the usual number of challenges, but it met them.
It kept the issue of Westerfield's guilt or innocence separate from the reckless, irresponsible, promiscuous lifestyle of Danielle's parents. Danielle didn't get to choose her parents. Perhaps if they weren't so focused on the pursuit of their own pleasures in marijuana smoking and partner swapping, Westerfield might not have been able to get into the home and make off with Danielle as easily as he did.
Perhaps Westerfield might not have become aroused to do what he did if he hadn't met Danielle's mother and two girlfriends at a neighborhood bar and if Danielle's mother had not, as one witness said, been "dirty dancing" with Westerfield that evening.
Danielle's parents will have to live with this the rest of their lives and will have a little explaining to do as their other children grow up, read about this case and ask their parents about their conduct.
The defense had tried to make the parents' lifestyle the issue and had argued that the species of bugs police found on Denielle's body challenged the prosecution's version of the chronology of the case.
The jury, however, relied on the more precise forensic evidence of Danielle's blood on Westerfield's jacket, in his home and in his motor home and her fingerprints in Westerfield's home.
Westerfield will be back in court on Aug. 28, when the jury then will hear arguments from both sides and decide whether to give him the death penalty or determine an alternate sentence.
Let's hope the jurors think long and hard about what the final day of Danielle's life was like and prescribe a penalty commensurate with that horror and agony.