To Catch a Killer
By Kevin Cox
(page 3 of 7)Ott leaves the room, and Westerfield is alone with Keyser.
“If you want to leave your gun here for a few minutes, I’d appreciate it,” Westerfield tells Keyser. His voice is subdued and eerily calm.
“That’s silly, that’s silly,” Keyser tells him.
“Silly in your opinion,” Westerfield replies.
Then the interrogation goes from strange to surreal. “I think you and your partner are very good at what you do,” Westerfield tells Keyser. It appears he’s trying to work the cops.
“Nobody’s looking after Dave’s rights,” Westerfield says. On the tape, he says he wants a lawyer, but he’s not ready to stop talking. “I’m only intelligent in certain directions, and I tend to do what I want to do,” he says. “That’s not a good thing at all times.”
Ott and Keyser ask Westerfield about the child pornography found on his computer. “It was perfectly innocent,” he tells them. “I know it looks bad, but I would tell you it’s not something I’m directly interested in.”
Westerfield sounds like an anthropologist, discussing some obscure civilization instead of adults forcing children to engage in sex acts. “All I was doing was documenting it,” he says of his porn collection.
“For who?” Ott asks.
“I can’t answer that,” Westerfield replies. “I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on there.”
One police source doesn’t buy any of it. “It’s classic pedophilia,” the source says. “Documenting. Categorizing.”
According to this source, Westerfield knew that Danielle’s father, Damon, was planning a snowboarding trip with one of her brothers on February 1. Brenda, Danielle’s mother, had planned the infamous girls’ night out with friends at Dad’s Café & Steak House that evening. Danielle and another brother were supposed to stay home with a babysitter, presumably a teenage girl.
“Westerfield really wanted the babysitter,” the source says. But the snowboarding trip got canceled, and Damon stayed home with all three children. Once Westerfield got in the house that night and saw Damon, he ducked into Danielle’s room, according to the source.
“[Danielle] would have recognized him,” the source believes. “He hit her, and that was it.”
Only Westerfield would be able to confirm it, and as of early September, he wasn’t talking. However, he had plenty to say on the February 5 interrogation video, and the jury in his trial undoubtedly would have been interested in seeing it. But Judge William Mudd ruled the tape inadmissible.
Police sources described their fears of a hung jury as deliberations dragged on for more than a week during the guilt phase of Westerfield’s trial. The video could have helped jurors, according to one source. “I think had they seen the other stuff, they may have come back sooner,” the source says.
As it was, the jury found Westerfield guilty on all counts—murder, kidnapping and possession of child pornography. By early September, the penalty phase of Westerfield’s trial had not concluded. The jury was to recommend the minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, or find that Westerfield should be sentenced to death.
Either way, the police department deserves major credit for building the case against Danielle’s killer, say former San Diego deputy district attorneys. They weren’t bound by Judge Mudd’s gag order, which prevented the police, prosecution and Westerfield’s attorneys from commenting on the case.
“I can’t recall ever seeing a case proceed to trial this quickly, with this complexity, in this county,” says Colin Murray, a prosecutor for more than seven years. “It’s clear that Westerfield chose to rush the case, hoping that the crime lab wouldn’t be able to process all the work in time.”
The police crime lab analyzed DNA and fiber evidence in the case, which prosecutors used to link Westerfield to Danielle van Dam. But the prosecution had only 60 days to prepare for trial—the minimum allowed by law—which made the crime lab’s job that much tougher, according to Murray.
“In light of the tremendous pressure that was on them, they really did a phenomenal job, doing the fiber and DNA analysis,” he says. Murray also praises police officers and criminalists who worked on the rest of the investigation, analyzing all the child porn and other images on Westerfield’s computer and interviewing witnesses for the prosecution’s case.
“They had to do an extraordinary amount of work in a incredibly short period of time,” says Mike Still, another former prosecutor. Still worked for the D.A.’s office for almost 12 years, using DNA evidence to prosecute homicide, rape and child molestation cases. “I know what it takes to coordinate all those efforts,” Still says. “That was an incredible team effort by everyone involved.”
During Westerfield’s trial, the police crime lab was still analyzing evidence and providing results to the prosecution, according to Still. “So that shows the time crunch they were up against,” he says.