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Judge sentences van Dam killer to death

'You are a heartless, empty shell'

Westerfield declined to make a courtroom statement Friday
Westerfield declined to make a courtroom statement Friday

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CNN's Frank Buckley provides a wrap of David Westerfield's death sentence for the slaying of the 7-year-old Danielle van Dam (January 3)
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The mother of Danielle Van Dam reads a statement to the court at the sentencing of David Westerfield (January 3)
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The father of Danielle Van Dam reads a statement to the court during the sentencing of David Westerfield (January 3)
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SPECIAL REPORT

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Showing no emotion and turning aside a plea for an apology, David Westerfield was sentenced to death Friday for the slaying of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

The twice-divorced father of two who was convicted last year of kidnapping and murdering his 7-year-old neighbor declined to make a statement as Superior Court Judge William Mudd made the ruling.

Westerfield was unable to make eye contact with Brenda van Dam, Danielle's mother, who called him an evil "monster" who deserved execution.

"Our precious Danielle was taken by a monster thinking only of self-gratification," Brenda van Dam said.

She looked directly at Westerfield, who did not look back. He remained still.

"You sat by smugly as thousands of people frantically searched for Danielle and her family," Brenda van Dam said. "It disgusts me that your sick fantasies and your pitiful needs made you feel you needed her more than her family ...

"You do not deserve any leniency, any mercy, because you refused to give it to Danielle."

Crime and evidence

Danielle was taken from her family's home in suburban San Diego last February. Nearly a month later, her nude body was found along a remote Southern California highway 25 miles away. Prosecutors said the girl had been assaulted.

Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer and a neighbor of the van Dam family, was convicted by a six-man, six-woman jury last August.

The evidence presented in the trial included what prosecutors said was Danielle's blood on his jacket and her fingerprints and DNA in his house and mobile home.

The jury recommended a death sentence, but Westerfield's attorneys asked for life in prison instead. Defense attorney Steven Feldman argued Friday that two officers violated Westerfield's constitutional rights in the course of the investigation.

Prosecutors said some evidence against Westerfield was not presented in the trial because of the improper behavior of the two officers.

Speaking from the bench, Mudd said, "The defendant suffered absolutely no, zero, zip, nada prejudice in this trial as a result of the conduct of these officers,"

Feldman also complained that the media "turns capital murder trials into summer entertainment," and he argued that public pressure must not influence the judge's decision.

"I ask you, don't be swayed by the lynch mob mentality we've seen in our community," he said. Feldman also claimed there were mitigating factors in Westerfield's background, which the prosecution denied.

Mother hopes inmates make Westerfield suffer

Westerfield attorney Feldman: Media
Westerfield attorney Feldman: Media "turns capital murder trials into summer entertainment."

When Mudd asked Westerfield if he'd like to make a statement, he replied, "No sir, thank you."

The judge rejected the defense's motion minutes before sentencing Westerfield.

"Based on a careful and an independent reweighing of the evidence, the court finds that the weight of the evidence ... supports the jury's verdict of death," he said.

Westerfield, who was divorced from his wife in 1996, has two grown children. They had asked the jury to spare their father's life.

Brenda van Dam spoke of them as she directed her words at Westerfield. "You have a daughter of your own," she said. "You will miss all of the good times in her life. You have victimized your own children just because you wanted mine. Although your children may try to move and change their names, they will always live with the fact that their father is a cold-blooded killer."

"What were you thinking as you killed her?" she asked. "Did she not touch your heart one bit? If not, you are a heartless, empty shell."

Damon van Dam, Danielle's father, also cried as he described his anguish. "All I'll have are the memories of her, some old pictures and videos and dreams of her which I hope are always as vivid as they are now. And having to know how brutal the last hours of her life were, my heart and my wife's heart have been broken and my other two children have been deeply hurt."

Westerfield likely to die in prison

Danielle van Dam was found dead 25 miles away from her family home.
Danielle van Dam was found dead 25 miles away from her family home.

Friday's sentencing of Westerfield ended one chapter of what was the first of many high-profile cases of missing children found dead in the United States last year.

But Westerfield's sentence does not close the case entirely: under California law, the death sentence will automatically be appealed.

Regardless of the outcome of an appeal, it is most likely that Westerfield will spend the rest of his life in prison. California's Department of Corrections lists 612 inmates currently on that state's death row.

Additionally, Westerfield's appeal is expected to take years. In the meantime, he will be housed in San Quentin prison.

Outside the courtroom after the trial, Brenda van Dam spoke repeatedly of the treatment she hopes Westerfield will receive from other inmates.

"I hope that he suffers twice, three times, 10 times the pain and fear that he put my daughter through before he dies."

She later said she does not mean for inmates to do anything illegal, but just to make their opinions clear.

The van Dam parents Thursday filed a civil suit against Westerfield, which they said is aimed at sending a message of deterrence by making sure he does not profit from his case.



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