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Angry judge delays Westerfield sentencing

David Westerfield in court
David Westerfield in court

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• Complaint: People v. Westerfield external link
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Formal sentencing of David Westerfield was put off until January 3 after Westerfield's attorneys said Friday they were not prepared to argue that the death sentence a jury recommended for the killing of Danielle van Dam should be modified to life in prison.

A clearly irritated Judge William Mudd put off the sentencing, which had been slated for Friday, saying, "I'm in a box" because the defense argument is required by California law.

Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer, was convicted by a six-man, six-woman jury on August 21 for murdering 7-year-old Danielle, the daughter of his neighbors.

The jury recommended the death penalty for Westerfield.

Defense attorney Steven Feldman told Mudd the defense was not ready, citing his recent surgery, personal problems involving the attorneys, and repeated media requests the defense had been required to respond to.

"We have moved as expeditiously as we could," said Feldman. He requested additional 60 days to get ready to make the argument.

"In this state, juries don't sentence people to death, judges do. In this state there is an automatic motion to modify [the death sentence] that is required by the defense, which is generally submitted in writing but can be orally done. The defense has just told me they are not prepared to do it. ... I'm in a box and I have no choice" but to grant a continuance, putting off the sentencing, Mudd said.

However, he said he would not grant the 60 days Feldman requested but "five weeks going into six" with the hearing scheduled for January 3.

Danielle van Dam was murdered by David Westerfield in February.
Danielle van Dam was murdered by David Westerfield in February.

He said he was "not inclined" to grant any more continuances.

Westerfield's arrest and trial was the first of what became a long list of high-profile cases of missing and slain children in the United States this year.

In pressing for the death penalty, prosecutor Jeff Dusek argued Westerfield showed "no compassion, no mercy, no pity" when he yanked the girl from her bed in the middle of the night late February 1 or early February 2, murdered her and then dumped her body. Danielle's body was found February 27 along a desert road.

Westerfield was a focus of the police investigation from the beginning and was arrested based on physical evidence, including a blood-stained jacket and Danielle's fingerprints and DNA found in his house and mobile home.

Defense attorneys argued that her DNA was left in the house when Danielle and her mother came to sell Girl Scout cookies, and they said neighborhood children sometimes played in the trailer when it was parked at a nearby park. They said investigators found no evidence Westerfield was ever inside the van Dam home.

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