Westerfield trial: 'Dirty dancing' could transfer fibers
Trial goes into sixth week
(Court TV) -- "Dirty dancing" between Danielle van Dam's mother and her accused killer might explain some fiber evidence believed to link David Westerfield to the murder, a prosecution expert conceded Tuesday in Westerfield's San Diego capital murder trial.
"That would impact my evaluation of the evidence," said police criminalist Jennifer Shen after a defense attorney told her of recent testimony that Brenda van Dam and Westerfield danced closely and suggestively at a bar the night the 7-year-old went missing.
Shen testified that a long, orange acrylic fiber found in the choker necklace Danielle wore at the time of her death was similar to fibers found in Westerfield's laundry and SUV.
When pressed by lawyer Steven Feldman about whether "huggy huggy" dancing February 1 between Brenda van Dam, who was wearing a red shirt, and Westerfield might have transferred fibers, Shin said, "That would certainly be important" to analysis.
Shen said the fibers appeared to have come from a loose knit fabric such as a sweater or blanket. Lab technicians did not examine Brenda van Dam's shirt, she said.
Shen's admission did little to diminish the other forensic evidence linking Westerfield to Danielle. The girl's blood, hair and fingerprints were found in his recreational vehicle, and another criminalist testified Tuesday that short blue-gray fibers found on and around Danielle's corpse were similar to fibers from the RV.
Four women testify
Westerfield's capital murder trial moved into its sixth week Tuesday with a busy day of testimony. Before Judge William Mudd allowed prosecutors to reopen their case in the middle of the defense to present the two criminalists' testimony, the jury heard from a string of four women who knew Westerfield before his arrest. The women, including two daughters of Westerfield's ex-girlfriend, testified for the defense about the defendant's habits in dealing with his RV -- a central part of the case.
Westerfield's lawyers have suggested that Danielle secretly played inside the RV before her abduction and left behind the trace evidence then. Two of the women told jurors that David Westerfield sometimes left the motor home unlocked on public streets.
Neither woman, however, said they saw the slain 7-year-old, nor any other neighborhood children in the recreational vehicle.
Christina Gonzales, the adult daughter of Westerfield's ex-girlfriend, said Westerfield typically parked the vehicle on the street for a day before and a day after trips to the desert. She said that when she helped load and unload, the RV was not locked.
On one occasion two years ago, Gonzales said, Westerfield parked the RV at a neighborhood park to do some repairs. A mother and child were playing nearby and Westerfield occasionally left the motor home to go back to his house, she said. Gonzales did not remember the sex of the child.
Another witness, Stephanie Escudero, who attended a barbecue at Westerfield's home last summer, said she and her husband toured the RV which was parked across the street.
"We just walked right in," she said.
But under questioning by prosecutor Jeff Dusek, Gonzales said she never saw strange children around the vehicle.
"You never saw any neighborhood kids inside that motor home did you?" he asked.
"No," Gonzales said.
And Escudero admitted she could not say whether a child could open the RV door unassisted.
"You do not know how hard or easy that motor home is to open," asked Dusek.
"No," Escudero said.
Jurors also heard from the ex-girlfriend's 16-year-old daughter, also named Danielle, and her friend, Jennifer, 17. Mudd ordered both teenagers to be identified only by their first names because they are juveniles.
The teens recalled pleasant weekend camping trips with Westerfield and his ex-girlfriend, Susan Lelec, and explained why police fingerprint examiners found their prints on the RV's windows.
They said they liked to press against the windows on the highway and make faces at passing drivers.
"We were just being crazy," said Jennifer.
Much of their testimony, however, seemed to benefit the prosecution. Both teen-agers said Westerfield normally brought dune buggies and other "sand toys" to the desert and set up his chairs, awning and rug shortly after arriving. The weekend Danielle vanished, he went to the desert alone and without the toys and never set up camp. They also said he normally left the curtains on the RV open during the day. Witnesses have testified he kept the curtains tightly drawn the weekend Danielle went missing.
The brief testimony from Gonzales and Danielle gave jurors a glimpse into Westerfield's personal life before the arrest. Gonzales said her mother lived with him for about a year and a half, moving out about a month before Danielle van Dam's disappearance.
Gonzales hinted at a close relationship with Westerfield, who she first met when he came to the hospital where she had just given birth to her son. She said that she briefly lived with her mother and Westerfield in the fall of 2000 after they offered her sanctuary from an abusive relationship.
She said Westerfield allowed her and her son to live in his house for three months and that she went camping with him and her mother on two or three occasions.
Gonzales' sister, Danielle, said she lived with her father, but spent a lot of time with her mother and Westerfield. Prosecutors have shown jurors pictures of Danielle in her bathing suit apparently taken by Westerfield. Dusek has suggested the pictures are lascivious, but her mother has reportedly said there was nothing sexual about the pictures.
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