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Jury selection begins in murder trial of slain girl's neighbor

David Westerfield
David Westerfield  

From Jim Vojtech

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- The jury selection process is under way in the murder trial of David Westerfield, charged with murder in the death of a 7-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in February.

Potential jurors from a pool of 350 started the selection process Friday by filling out questionnaires.

Marilyn Laurence, spokesperson for San Diego County Superior Court, said attorneys told her the trial could start June 3.

Westerfield, 50, is charged with kidnapping and murder in the death of a neighbor child, Danielle van Dam, whose body was found along a rural road east of San Diego three weeks after she disappeared. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors announced last month they will seek the death penalty.

Indictment: People v. Westerfield (FindLaw document, PDF format)
Court TV's coverage of the Westerfield trial 

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Sources close to trial estimate it will last 12 weeks.

Danielle's disappearance drew national headlines and rallied scores of volunteers to search for her in the hills surrounding the family's suburban San Diego home. The girl's body was found in an isolated desert area 25 miles from the home.

Westerfield, a twice-divorced father of grown children, was arrested February 22. He first became a suspect in the disappearance because he had left on a desert camping trip within hours of Danielle's disappearance.

The jury questionnaire is 21 pages long with 123 questions ranging from personal issues, such as marital status, to drug and alcohol use.

One of the questions asks: "In the course of this trial, you may be expected to view and discuss photographs of the deceased which will graphically depict her decomposed body. Will you be able to do so?"

Prospective jurors are also being asked their opinions on the death penalty.

Judge William Mudd is presiding at the trial.




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