(HARD PARTY LIFESTYLE EVIDENT IN PHOTOS!!)KIMBERLY EPLER
SAN DIEGO ---- Brenda van Dam broke down several times Thursday at the trial of her daughter's accused murderer as attorneys questioned her for five hours about the most personal details of her marriage and the events surrounding her little girl's disappearance.
Glaring intently at David Westerfield from the witness stand, van Dam spent most of the day recounting the night 7-year-old Danielle van Dam was last seen alive and describing her brief interactions with the man now standing trial for her daughter's murder.
Dressed in a pink shirt with a rose print and a black sweater, van Dam paused for several seconds before answering "three" to the prosecutor's question of how many children she has. She immediately broke into tears.
Her testimony dominated day three of Westerfield's trial on charges he kidnapped Danielle from her bedroom the first weekend in February and murdered the Sabre Springs second-grader. Van Dam's husband, Damon, a software engineer at Qualcomm, testified Wednesday.
Westerfield, a self-employed engineer and twice-divorced father of two, faces the death penalty if convicted. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of possession of child pornography.
The trial, one of the most extensively covered in San Diego County history, is expected to last three months.
Other testimony Thursday included the county medical examiner, who determined Danielle's death was a homicide, and a bartender from the restaurant where Brenda van Dam and Westerfield went the night Danielle disappeared.
Jurors also heard the frantic 911 call Brenda van Dam made the following morning.
Under questioning from prosecutor Jeff Dusek, van Dam testified she did not know Westerfield's name before going to his house with Danielle and her youngest son to sell Girl Scout cookies three days before Danielle vanished.
She said they spent about 15 minutes in his house and the children briefly went outside to see Westerfield's pool.
She insisted the children never went upstairs or into Westerfield's garage when questioned by Westerfield's attorney, Steven Feldman, about whether she really knew where the children were for the entire 15 minutes. Prosecutors have said they found Danielle's hair in laundry lint found in Westerfield's garbage. They also found fibers similar to Danielle's bedroom carpet on his washer.
Brenda van Dam also talked about the night Danielle was last seen alive, how she went out with two girlfriends, how they smoked marijuana in the garage and how she ran into Westerfield at a bar.
She testified the women and two male friends returned to the van Dam home early the next morning and ate some pizza.
Westerfield's attorney then cross-examined her for nearly three hours. Like her husband, Brenda van Dam admitted to having a previous sexual relationship with the two women she went out with the night Danielle disappeared and their male partners.
She said she told police about the relationship after one of the detectives told her it was important for them to know if she had "an open marriage."
"I would have told them anything they needed to get Danielle back," van Dam said.
Feldman repeatedly has attacked the credibility of Danielle's parents, questioning their lifestyle and the company they kept. He has argued that whoever took Danielle likely had knowledge of the layout of the van Dams' home.
Brenda van Dam testified she was never worried about having her two female friends around her children. She described one as a nice woman who never would have done anything to hurt her sons or her daughter.
Jurors also heard the 911 call van Dam made to police after discovering her daughter's canopy bed was empty.
"My daughter was not in her bed this morning," a shaky-voiced Brenda van Dam tells the dispatcher. "She's only 7. I thought she was in there asleep."
The desperation in her voice grows after the dispatcher asks if there is any sign of a break-in. Van Dam says she found the side garage door open when she got home around 2 a.m.
After a slight pause, she adds that her husband found the back door open a crack.
Brenda van Dam, who was on the stand as the tape was played, wiped away tears and gave icy glances to Westerfield, who kept his head down, or talked to attorneys, during much of her testimony.
Children's voices can be heard in the background of the 911 tape. The dispatcher tells van Dam to take a deep breath and think positive thoughts. Brenda van Dam testified police arrived 15 minutes after that call.
Under questioning from Feldman, she denied having a conversation with her husband about whether they should withhold information from the police about their drug use and sexual relationships.
Damon van Dam admitted Wednesday that he initially lied to police but opened up once he realized the "magnitude of the situation."
There was a brief interruption during the afternoon session when a 40-year-old woman yelled "F...you, Westerfield" through the courtroom door. One of the jurors told Judge William Mudd that she was shaken by the experience, but he assured the panel the court would do everything to make sure nothing similar happened again.
Sheriff's deputies said the woman was not arrested.
Earlier in the morning, county medical examiner Dr. Brian Blackbourne wrapped up his second day of testimony. He told jurors Danielle's body looked as though it had been exposed to the elements for somewhere between 10 days and six weeks. Danielle's body was recovered nearly four weeks after she was reported missing the first weekend in February.
Blackbourne also testified he found no evidence of a sexual assault. But he said the body was too severely decomposed to conduct an examination.
Jurors also heard testimony from a bartender who works at the restaurant where Brenda van Dam and Westerfield went separately on the night Danielle disappeared.
Sean Brown testified that neither van Dam nor Westerfield appeared drunk. He said he never saw van Dam or her friends acting in an inappropriate manner. He described Westerfield as a "people-watcher" who seemed to have a "hard shell."
Van Dam testified that Westerfield bought drinks for herself and two friends at the bar.
Testimony in the case is set to resume Monday.
Contact staff writer Kimberly Epler at (760) 739-6644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.