(06-26-2002) - Death Penalty Would Mean Loss of Second Son
By David Gotfredson, LOCAL 8 News
It may be impossible to imagine the range of emotions a mother goes through following the death of a son. But at the age of 69, Laura Nan Westerfield is facing the possibility of going through that painful experience a second time.
Laura Westerfields youngest son, Earl Edson Westerfield, died of AIDS at the age of 36. Now her first born, 50-year-old David Westerfield, is facing the possibility of a death sentence in one of the most heinous crimes in San Diego County history: the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.
Laura Westerfield lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment behind the walls of a gated, senior complex in Clairemont. An avid reader of novels, Ms. Westerfield fancies herself an amateur sleuth.
I love to read mystery novels. It used to take me until the final two chapters to guess who did it. Now, I can guess before Im halfway through. Theres always something that gives you a clue, she recently commented.
But, when it comes to the real-life mystery of her sons murder case, Laura Westerfield has no clues. Asked about possible psychological events in David Westerfields childhood that could lead him to cold-blooded murder, Ms. Westerfield responded, Theres nothing.
"He didnt cut off puppy dog tails. He never hurt anybody in all his life, she said.
Confronted with the pile of evidence in the murder of Danielle van Dam, Ms. Westerfield alternates between defending her son and disbelief.
I am predisposed to the fact that he did not do this. (David) wouldnt do something like that.
What happened? Can somebody tell me what happened? How could he have possibly done it? I did the best I could. Hes a great person. I have no idea how the hell it happened. Something happened to him.
Of the van Dam family, Ms. Westerfield says she understands their pain.
I should know how awful it is to lose a child, she said. When Danielle first went missing, I cried for the mother. Poor little girl, I would have loved to hug her.
David Alan Westerfield is the oldest of three children. His sister, Tania Pecina, lives in Clairemont in the same house where she and her siblings were raised from the time they were teenagers. Pecina has three children: one from a previous marriage and two by her present husband. Westerfields brother Earl, the middle child in the family, was openly gay and died of AIDS in 1990.
The family was aware of Earl Westerfields sexual preference from the time he was a young boy, according to his mother. I started noticing there was something different about Earl about the time he was five years old, she said.
Earl Westerfields infection with HIV, which he contracted from a longtime companion, eventually led to his hospitalization. The Westerfield family supported him financially through a series of costly treatments until his death at an Oceanside hospice called Fraternity House.
I hugged Earl the day before he died. I wrapped my arms around him and he was just bones. I told him he could die. He asked me if it would be okay and I said yes, recalled Ms. Westerfield. It was a hard time for the family.
David Westerfield was not overly distraught by his brothers passing, according to Ms. Westerfield. Alan was close to his brother, but he dealt with it, she said. (In conversation, Laura Westerfield refers to her son by his middle name, Alan, because his father was also named David).
Ms. Westerfields late husband, David Horatio Westerfield -- who died in 1993 of colon cancer -- served as a lawmaker in the Maine House of Representatives in 1961. He and Laura Westerfield divorced when Alan was 26.
David H. Westerfield graduated in 1949 from Point Loma High School and attended San Diego State University for three and a half years. He studied archeology but never received a degree.
He never did quite make it. He didnt think it was important, Ms. Westerfield said of her late husband.
Preferring artistic endeavors, David H. Westerfield held a variety of jobs during his time in San Diego, including landscape architect, still photographer, portrait artist and magazine layout editor. Laura Westerfield herself also worked for a number of years doing layout and editing for Dicta, a San Diego law magazine.
Ms. Westerfield describes her sons relationship with his father as normal, although she admits her late husband was authoritative, if not strict. Well, I wouldnt say strict, but he wouldnt give you more than two or three chances to do what he said, she remembered.
David H. Westerfield filed for divorce in 1978, although it was Laura Westerfield who first left home. I finally got out of that situation after 25 years of being subjugated, she said.
We grew apart. In fact, I was bored empty nest syndrome. It wasnt very difficult, just one of those things that had to happen.
I ran away from home. I left him the house. I left him his daughter. Both the boys were gone. They moved out of the house when they were 18. That was the rule of the house. When youre 18, you move out. Youre old enough to look after yourself. And Alan was. He was old enough at 14.
We supported (the children) as best we could when they moved out. Set them up in apartments. I had been saving some money for them. All the things moms do.
Regardless of the problems in her marriage, Ms. Westerfield insists there was never any physical or sexual abuse within the family, and certainly none involving her son Alan. She describes the family unit as close during David Westerfields childhood.
We talked about everything under the sun at the dinner table. It was a rule. You had to be there at six oclock every day.
David Alan Westerfield spent most of his life in San Diego County. Born in National Citys Paradise Hospital in 1952, he lived with his parents and siblings in Point Loma and Clairemont until he was five. Thats when the family moved to Maine, where they stayed for 11 years, according to Ms. Westerfield.
At the age of 15, David Westerfield returned with his family to Clairemont his mother is a San Diego native and attended Madison High School where he graduated with the Class of 1970.
Laura Westerfield says her son tried out for football at Madison High but left the team after playing just one game. She says Alan became upset with the coaches and players for what he perceived as poor sportsmanship.
The coaches wanted the players to (hit) the opposing players with known injuries. Alan was disgusted by this and told me he didnt want to play football anymore, she said.
On another occasion, Ms. Westerfield remembers her son getting into a fight with one of the other football players and punching him in the face.
Ms. Westerfield says her son was not exceedingly popular at school. He was the biggest square youve ever seen, she recalled, using her fingers to outline the shape of a box. Asked whether her son ever smoked marijuana, Ms. Westerfield said, Not that I know of. Alan was just too square.
A neighbor who lived across the street from the Westerfields for three decades described David Westerfield during his teenage years as a loner. He was a very quiet, private person. You couldnt get two words out of him, the neighbor said. I dont think he had any friends at school ever.
Classmates describe David Westerfield as being involved in math and engineering clubs, though his high school senior yearbook does not list him as a member of any social, athletic or academic group.
After graduating high school, Westerfield attended Mesa College for three years, and worked at Saskas restaurant in Mission Beach during the early 1970s, his mother said.
Madison High School was also the place where David Westerfield met his first wife, Deborah Kyle. They were high school sweethearts. The two married in 1973, when Westerfield was 21 and Kyle was 19. They were married for six years and had no children before divorcing in 1979. Kyle now lives in Rancho Penasquitos.
Eight months after his divorce, Westerfield married Jackie Neal in December of 1979. He was 27; she was 21. Eventually, the couple had two children, Lisa and Neal Westerfield. (Neals first name also is David but he goes by his middle name.)
Alan was a good father to his children, according to Ms. Westerfield. He hugged his son. Something I could never get his father to do.
During his 17-year marriage to Jackie Neal, David Westerfields career as a design engineer developed. He worked for several North County companies before creating his own business in 1995, Spectrum Design.
Westerfield currently holds three U.S. patents: one for a surgically implanted knuckle prosthesis, another for a continuous passive motion device used in knee surgery rehabilitation, and a third for a metal pulley. Friends say he also designed the mechanism for a popular line of electric garage door openers.
Sources close to the family described Westerfield as a demanding husband who enjoyed a party lifestyle, often returning home in the early hours of the morning. He and his wife Jackie Neal separated in July of 1995. She filed for divorce three months later and the dissolution became final in June of 1996. The couple received joint custody of their two children, now ages 21 and 18. Lisa and Neal Westerfield live with their mother in Poway and attend college.
In recent years, David Westerfields drinking and womanizing became more prevalent, according to his mother. These traits he apparently had in common with his father.
Alans a horn dog. Thats what my daughter calls him. She called her father that, too, said Ms. Westerfield. I think Alan taught his father a few things about (womanizing). They would go out together after the divorce.
On March 2, 1996, San Diego Police arrested David Westerfield for the first time. An officer noticed Westerfield weaving from side to side on Northbound Interstate 15 near Highway 52. Westerfield did poorly on a field sobriety test and was booked into jail with a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit.
The DUI appears to be David Westerfields only criminal conviction and it came as a complete surprise to his mother.
Alan never drank. Never. Thats why this whole last year is so out of character. He had a DUI. Ick!
Court records show that Laura Westerfield has two drunken driving convictions of her own, one from 1983 and one from 1990. In 1991, Ms. Westerfield also was convicted of driving on a suspended drivers license, according to court records.
David Westerfield purchased his home on Mountain Pass Road in Sabre Springs in June of 1996, according to property records. (The van Dams moved into the neighborhood two years later.)
In October of 1998, a woman Westerfield had been dating for about two months moved into his Sabre Springs home with her two children from a previous marriage, a boy and a girl ages 14 and 11 respectively. Tamera Weibrecht apparently was engaged to Westerfield for a short time but the relationship did not last long. Weibrecht and her two children moved out nine months later because of Westerfields party lifestyle, according Weibrechts present husband Jim Graves.
He liked to party, but at some point that gets pretty old. At some point you have to give that up and settle down, said Graves. Thats what Tamera wanted to do. She also had an interest in religion and (Westerfield) didnt want anything to do with religion.
Weibrecht had no comment regarding her domestic relationship with Westerfield, which ended in 1999. Graves says police officers have spoken with both of the children and there is no evidence of any sexual abuse involving Westerfield and Weibrechts kids.
In 2000, Westerfield found himself living with another woman in virtually the same scenario.
Susan Lelek said she met Westerfield at the Big Stone Lodge in Poway and dated him about three months before moving into Westerfield's Sabre Springs home. At the time, Lelek had a teenage daughter and an adolescent son by her second marriage, as well as two adult children from her first marriage. Lelek said her teenage daughter would stay at Westerfield's house every other weekend while Lelek was living there.
Lelek's relationship with Westerfield lasted on and off a couple years until the two "grew apart," said Lelek. She later testified that Westerfield's drinking led, in part, to their separation. Lelek told the jury that Westerfield would change when he was drinking. He would become quiet, upset and depressed, she said. She also testified that Westerfield would occasionally become "forceful" while under the influence of alcohol.
Lelek recently defended Westerfield during an interview at her family's home in Mira Mesa. Lelek says photographs taken by Westerfield in his backyard of her teenage daughter lounging in a bikini poolside were not sexual in nature.
Police officers found the photos on a computer disk in Westerfields office. Prosecutors entered the images into evidence at the preliminary hearing, as well as Westerfields criminal trial.
Lelek insists the photographs were blown way out of proportion by the prosecution. Those were just a few of hundreds of photographs David took by the pool during barbeques with his children and their friends, Lelek said.
Yes, the towel was over her face. Yes, her legs were spread, and the angle was sort of looking up, and her hand was in a strange position, but thats just the way teenagers act sometimes. It was totally innocent.
Laura Westerfield was unaware that her son had lived with either Lelek or Weibrecht. David Westerfield apparently maintained a distant relationship with his mother. Ms. Westerfield recalled that her son had sent her a Christmas card each year.
I did not see Alan a lot over the past year, said Ms. Westerfield. I saw him at Tanias house. But I didnt ask about his lifestyle in any way, shape or form. It was none of my business. When your kids get older, you dont ask a lot.
Westerfield never visited his mothers apartment either. I knew where he was. He knew where I was, Ms. Westerfield said. We spoke on the telephone.
Ms. Westerfield first discovered her son had been arrested as a suspect in the van Dam kidnapping from television news reports, though she claims she had a premonition something was happening with her son the night Danielle went missing.
Alan and I have a connection, she said.
The news was devastating.
You cant imagine how much it hurts. Ive cried until my eyeballs are poking out, Ms. Westerfield said.
How would you feel? I turn on the television every day and theres my son, the murderer.
Ms. Westerfield had no contact with her son following his arrest until the first day of his preliminary hearing on March 11, 2002. She attended the hearing in person after taking three buses to the downtown courthouse making eye-to-eye contact with her son in open court.
During a break in the hearing, a member of the defense team approached Ms. Westerfield and whispered something to her.
The attorneys apparently wanted Ms. Westerfield to understand that jailhouse deputies read mail before it is delivered to inmates. They did not want Ms. Westerfield writing anything confidential in correspondence to her son.
Laura Westerfield since has written one letter to her son in jail. He did not reply. They have not spoken on the telephone and Ms. Westerfield has no plans to visit him behind bars. Im waiting for him to contact me, she said.
If it turns out David Westerfield is found guilty of the special circumstance of murder during the course of a kidnapping, relatives likely will be called to testify on his behalf during the penalty phase of the trial. Ms. Westerfield says she will not be in attendance.
Instead, she will watch the decision come down on television in her apartment, just as she did on the final day of her sons preliminary hearing.
When the judge announced his decision at the end of the hearing, she said, Alan was crying. He was crying. A mother can tell.
David Gotfredson: (858) 495-7555; email@example.com
John Jamieson and Valpal1's comments
Combining your excellent posts...along w/some extra comments
Here's what I think the prosecution has proven "beyond a reasonable doubt":
1. What.. Homicide and kidnapping
2. Who - deceased victim Danielle Van Dam
3. When - Sometime between 2/1 and 2/17 (Exact date and time of death and date and time of dumping both unknown)
4. Where removed from her home-, and killed somewhere within the area between her home and body location on Dahesa Rd.
5. How - Exact cause of death unknown. More than likely suffocation, determined by elimination method Danielle van Dam is dead, her pajamas were removed and her nude body was illegally dumped off of Dehesa Road Person(s) who dumped her is also unknown, But a suspect was arrested and charged. Manner of death is also unknown, posion, drugs, stabbing, strangulation and bullet have been elminated. ME could not elimate suffocation.
Young girls don't just die, she's seven, not seventy-seven. Accidental suffocation of seven year olds generally involve appliances like refridgerators or accidental asphyxation by caught clothing. Course, it's highly unusual for children to disrobe for hide-n-seek or for corpses to shed clothing that strangled them, so nudity in an accidental suffocation is a red flag to investigators and most manuals will tell you in such cases to look for pornoghaphy and autoerotic paraphanalia. Although that would also be highly unusual behavior in a seven year old as well.
There is ample proof that she had no organic desease or defect (natural causes). Claims that she could have died by her own acts of misadventure do not explain the location of the body. Claims that her nude body was placed there to cover up an accidental death that no one caused lack basic logic.
Either the minimal forensic evidence in DW's home and RV was left there through prior casual contact (cookie sale) and transference or it didn't. But it most certainly did not get there by Danielle wandering over and accidently suffocating in the nude while no one was around
6. Why - Criminal intent or to prevent discovery of other crime (felony murder).
8. Known previous contact--Danielle van Dam was once in David Westerfield's home to sell him girl scout cookies. Brenda and DW had spoken in a bar and grill called "Dads" on 2 separate occasions.. Stipulated by both sides.
9.Known evidence --Danielle's dog hair, her prints, her hair and blood found in motorhome. Blood from both Danielle and David Westerfield on DW's jacket. DW had scratches on his arm and possibly legs. Fibers with common source.. found on or near Danielle's body and David Westerfields home. Child pornography, both legal and illegal found in DW's home office. Danielle was found nude, with her necklace on. Various fibers, hairs vegetative growth located on and around her body.