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Danielle Van Dam's Father Speaks in Westerfield Sentencing

Aired August 28, 2002 - 13:39   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you live to San Diego now where Damon Westerfield, the son of David Westerfield, has taken the stand. Jurors, as you know, have begun -- I'm sorry, father of Danielle van Dam -- incorrect information there. I apologize. That's Damon taking the stand there, the father of Danielle van Dam, as jurors begin hearing evidence today in the sentencing phase for David Westerfield.

DAMON VAN DAM: ... and I would get my suit and tie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many father-daughter dances did you go to, Mr. van Dam?

VAN DAM: Two. One in Creekside (ph) and one in Morning Creek (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did have you any pictures taken?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there one coming up before she was taken from you?

VAN DAM: Yes. There was one coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was that going to be?

VAN DAM: I think about a week after it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was Danielle's attitude about those father-daughter dances?

VAN DAM: She absolutely loved them, loved spending time one on one with me like that. And getting all dressed up was the biggest thing and seeing all her friends dressed up like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would happen at the dance?

VAN DAM: We would go get pictures and drink punch and dance and they would have the slow dances. She would dance with me and then they would have the Britney Spears music and all of the girls would dance together in the middle of the hall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did Danielle do in school, in school work? VAN DAM: She loved school. She loved doing the school work. She was real dedicated to doing work. She would do more work than she had to. In fact, on the night she was taken, she was doing work. It wasn't for school, it was just, you know, for fun. She would go through the dictionary and write words in her journal to learn new words and what they meant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever urge her on, Hey, it is time to do school work, anything like that?

VAN DAM: We would tell them all when it was time to do school work. But again, unlike the boys, we didn't have to urge her on. We didn't have to keep nagging her. She would just sit down and do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she have outside activities aside from school?

VAN DAM: Brownies was her latest -- it was Daisies at first, the pre-Brownies are Daisies when they are real little, and she had just transitioned to being a Brownie. She loved her troop and her troop leader, which was a guy, which was kind of odd for Brownies, but he is just a great guy. And she loved the whole group, loved them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long was she involved in the Daisies and Brownies.

VAN DAM: Two years. She was a Daisy, and then she transitioned to Brownie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once you reach a certain age, you move on to Brownies?

VAN DAM: Right. Right. And they would have -- go out to the flower fields, go do projects at Home Depot. Do projects at home. She loved the Brownies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she have a uniform?

VAN DAM: Yes, we still have her jacket, and we haven't had all the badges sewn on yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she have any other activities?

VAN DAM: Dancing.


VAN DAM: She did dance for probably six, eight months at a dance school near us, which was ballet, and then they had a dance recital up in Escondido, at the performing arts center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember when that was?

VAN DAM: That was, I think, around Thanksgiving -- last...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your answers. VAN DAM: I think around Thanksgiving last year, and the whole troupe from that dance school did it, and it went from the littlest ones all the way up to the eldest, and we still have videotape of that. She was just thrilled to go, so happy to be on stage, and get dressed up in her dance outfit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she show or seem to have any hesitancy to get up there and perform?

VAN DAM: A little bit of hesitancy, but she liked it. She was just like -- she played piano too, and she liked doing that, you know, performing and talking wasn't a big deal to her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did she start the piano?

VAN DAM: She started the piano just a few weeks before it happened, maybe a month or two, and we had gotten a keyboard and put it in the dining room, a nice big full-size electric keyboard, and she would practice on that everyday, on her own with that one, which was really good because she was dedicated enough to practice the piano on her own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she went for lessons, is that right?

VAN DAM: Yes, she went for lessons with a neighbor a couple of doors down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she any good?

VAN DAM: For the very little she did, I think she was pretty good. She would have been good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she have any athletic interest that she was involved in?

VAN DAM: T-ball, which she was somewhat interested in. At T- ball age, though, they are kind of whacking at the ball, and then we they are out in the outfield, they are just kind of kicking the dirt around. Her and Dylan were on the same team, and they weren't that great so they sat out the next year, but I think from mommy playing, she wanted to go back and start playing ball again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say mommy playing, Brenda played softball?

VAN DAM: Brenda played softball. There was a couple kids on the boys' little -- a couple girls on the boys' Little League, so it is not a problem for her to get in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She did play the one year?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seemed to be more interested in snacks, or the ball game itself?

VAN DAM: Talking and playing with the kids afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have any routines, things that you would do around the house with the kids, dinner time, bed time? Those types of activities?

VAN DAM: The most common was reading before bed. I would read to her, actually, when she was real young, we started with the letters. We had a little letter thing where you push the letter and it would say it, so she would have to guess letters. And actually, we had big foam letters too, and she would guess letters and I would give her a nickel for each letter she got right, so she got through the alphabet. Every night we would do that before bed, and then we moved on to words. Some with flash cards, some with just guessing words. I would read her a book, and make her guess a word here and there. The "the's" and the "A's" and "I's." Then she got to reading on her own. She would read to me instead of me reading to her, and sometimes her older brother would read to her. Then it got to where she was good enough, she was teaching her younger brother to read before bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be Dylan?

VAN DAM: Yes. So I would sit and listen to her read to him and help her out when she got words wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there a reason that you assumed that responsibility as opposed to Brenda?

VAN DAM: Just kind of fell into it. We shared things, and that just ended up being mine. Brenda did it sometimes too. I just usually did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there a routine or anything that you did when it got to be lights out time to leave the room?

VAN DAM: Just tuck them in and give them a big hug. My favorite with her, was she would give me the big squeezy hug. I don't know how it started, but she was really strong. She would give a real tight squeeze hug, and I would pretend to fall dead on her and go limp on top of her and she would just giggle and laugh and thought it was the funniest thing that she could squeeze so hard. So that was her unique thing for before getting tucked into go good night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The boys, Derek and Dylan, based upon your assessment, do they know what has happened?

VAN DAM: Yes, we have been clear with them on basically what has happened. That she is dead, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was Danielle closer to one than the other?

VAN DAM: Yes, she was -- her and Dylan were best buddies. They would always play imaginary games together. And Derek was a little older, so he would be off on his own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How old is Dillon?

VAN DAM: Dillon is five now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he was two years or three years behind Danielle?

VAN DAM: I was just corrected, he is six now. Yes, they are only like a year and a half apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did he react?

VAN DAM: He reverted back to more baby-like, stopped reading, started wetting the bed again. Needed to sleep with us for quite a while, and now still needs to sleep with his brother. They have separate rooms, but they sleep together in Derek's room now because they are still afraid. We set the alarm for them, and make sure everything is locked up real tight now, but they are still afraid and have to sleep together. He has recovered somewhat, but he is still probably back to where he was before she was missing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he ask any questions?

VAN DAM: Questions on what death is and where she is -- with grandpa, because grandpa's with us too. He mostly just misses her. He gets really sad. We had a function a while ago with the Brownie troop, and a lot of people talked about Danielle and he got very sad there, as I did. I believe -- I think he understands it better than we think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about Derek? He was a couple years older than Danielle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is he doing?

VAN DAM: He's -- more introverted. He clammed up a lot at the beginning, didn't want to talk about it. He would shy away, and then have outbursts, emotional outbursts where he would get mad at something else, be doing something else, and get really mad and start crying over something insignificant. We put him -- took him -- well, we all went to therapy for it, and they went and saw their own therapist for a while. We stopped at beginning of all this...


VAN DAM: Yes. He seems to be doing a little better. He has expressed it in school a little, how upset he is and how mad he is that this has happened. We talk about a little more, but he is still a little too -- still holds in a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see any behavior changes, aside from the acting out after this happened?

PHILLIPS: Damon van Dam, the father of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, the young girl that was kidnapped and killed, and we're listening right now to his testimony about his daughter, things she enjoyed, her hobbies, her character, as jurors are now hearing all of the evidence today in the sentencing phase for David Westerfield. He has been convicted. He was convicted last week of kidnapping and killing 7- year-old Danielle van Dam, and now the jurors must decide whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed.


PHILLIPS: We are going to take you back now to San Diego to the David Westerfield sentencing phase. Damon van Dam, father of Danielle van Dam, is once again telling jurors about his daughter and her hobbies and her routines and talking about her character.

VAN DAM: ... close friend. And I think as we drove around out there, I realized -- I still hoped that -- I kind of realized that she was probably gone, and I knew what we were looking for. I had a couple breakdowns with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember when that was, Mr. van Dam, in relation to her initially being gone?

VAN DAM: It is all a blur. It seems like, I don't know, sometimes it seems like years since February 2, and sometimes it seems like minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you have had those thoughts, that she might be gone, what did you do with them?

VAN DAM: You know, you realize that might be the way it is, but you still hope. You want, no matter what, to just have her back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get involved in some of the searches?

VAN DAM: Yes, mostly did mapping out in the desert, driving around with the GPS and mark out areas to search. Actually, we never got to much of it -- so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you had the thoughts that she might be gone, did you discuss those with anybody, specifically your wife?

VAN DAM: We talked about it a couple times, but it was mostly unsaid, though. Brenda held out a lot more hope than I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There then came a time when the defendant was arrested on these charges by police. I think it was February 22. Did you still have hope that your daughter was alive at that point?

VAN DAM: Yes, some.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you meet with anyone that day, or about that time?

VAN DAM: Yes. We were told about the murder charges.


VAN DAM: That's a fog. I don't even know.


VAN DAM: Yes. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even when we told you that the charges would be murder, did you still have hope?

VAN DAM: Yes. Kind of had to. Not much. I think Brenda had a lot more than I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were you when you received word that she had been found?

VAN DAM: At home -- and actually the first word came, you were over at the house, I think you remember, we were out back, and it was the first call we had gotten from the search center saying they had found someone. We had heard the stuff on the news, and before that, and I never really put much in that, but this is the first time we were called by the search center, I kind of braced for it right away, because it was them telling us. And that was, I think, around noon, sometime in the early afternoon or morning. It wasn't until later that night that it was confirmed...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So your first...

VAN DAM: ... that it was her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first word came in a telephone call from the search center?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the search center?

VAN DAM: The Danielle Recovery Center, it was the group...


VAN DAM: ... of volunteers that were searching, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you heard that a body had been found, what were your thoughts?

VAN DAM: Just disbelief that she could be gone, really because your hopes are a lot more -- it is kind of, I don't know, still denying it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it take a while for confirmation, the identification?

VAN DAM: Well, confirmation -- I forget who came over and gave us that evening that it was her necklace and her earrings, but that was pretty much when Brenda finally realized -- kind of slowly eased into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After she was found, who had to organize the funeral? VAN DAM: We did some of it. Luckily, we had a lot of very nice, helpful people that did most of the logistics. We mainly picked the church and place for memorial service and made a list of people, and just gave them basics of what we would like at the funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there a burial or a cremation?

VAN DAM: Cremated. She is still upstairs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you become aware of how her death affected this community?

VAN DAM: Yes, we have heard from beginning about how many people she touched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there anything set up out in front of her house while she was still in a missing status.

VAN DAM: Yes, there was a memorial. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the corner (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Describe it for us.

VAN DAM: A table with sign-in books, baskets for people to leave notes and lots and lots of flowers, Lots and lots of teddy bears and stuffed animals. Lots and lots of angels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that eventually moved somewhere?

VAN DAM: Yes, it was moved to the park down the street (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


VAN DAM: To kind of give it more room and to give our neighbors more room. It was a neighbor's yard (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got marked as courts exhibit 202 this photo display board with four photographs, A through D. It appears to be a park setting. Do you recognize what we have depicted here, Mr. van Dam?

VAN DAM: Yes, that's the park after we moved. This is uptown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is the house in relation -- how far away is the park from the house?

VAN DAM: Our yard's straight to the left in photo A.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quarter mile, more or less?

VAN DAM: Yes, probably less.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The items that we have depicted in these photographs, what are they and where did they come from?

VAN DAM: People in the community brought them out in honor of her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amount of items that we see in these photographs, A through D, is that the most things that were there, the least things that were there, or somewhere in between.

VAN DAM: Somewhere in between. We had taken a lot of flowers to some convalescent homes. So there was a lot more flowers than that. I don't know if we had -- I think we had a large collection of bears because when it was in front of our house, it overflowed, so we brought bears in and put them all over our sofa. So probably twice as many bears too, stuffed animals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have heard how Danielle was found down at (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Did you ever go down there?

VAN DAM: Yes, we went down there private one day with the family.


VAN DAM: Brenda's family, my family, some close friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember about when that was?

VAN DAM: Part of the fog -- I can't tell time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you able to find the place?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you see?

VAN DAM: The spot -- the spot where she was still there. The vegetation around it had been cut back, and again lots of angels. actually, they had cleared the side of the road and built a staircase, the fire department; the volunteer fire department down there built a staircase it walk up to it. Somebody put a bench out there. Lots of prayers and cards, angels, stuffed animals there as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did do you there?

VAN DAM: Read a lot of the cards. Had a prayer for her. Talked to each other about what happened there. Took a few angels. We have got a big angel collection at home in honor of her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got marked as court exhibit 203 another photo display board this. This one contains three photographs labeled A through C. It appears to be from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Mr. van Dam, do you recognize what we have depict on exhibit 203?

VAN DAM: yes.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that appear how it was at the time you were there, the stairs and all?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of items that seem to be depicted in photographs B and C, how does that number compare with what you saw when you were there?

VAN DAM: There was more there. There was more vegetation there too then. There was more stuff under the tree, lots of angels hanging in the tree. And more stuff. This is a little outcropping from the tree where they found her. There was some more stuff around there too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any other people there aside from you and your group?

VAN DAM: A few people came up while we were there, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How was Danielle disciplined when she goofed up?

VAN DAM: Usually, all our kids are sent to their rooms and told to think about it. And then after a while, made to apologize. We used to have a quiet chair that they would have to sit in the chair in the corner and wait and think about it. But we had gone to sending them to their rooms. And then they would have to apologize and tell us what they did wrong after a while.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that what you used with Danielle?

VAN DAM: Yes, mostly. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would she do anything when she would be in the room being punished?

VAN DAM: Yes. Once again, unlike the boys, who had figured out what they did wrong and apologize, she would draw I'm sorry cards and apologies, write or draw pictures of apologies, and give them to us without even being asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you save any of those?

VAN DAM: Yes, one I kept on my nightstand because it was a really nice one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have marked as court's exhibit 201, a manila envelope containing a note. Do you recognize what has been described as 201, Mr. van Dam?

VAN DAM: Yes. This is that note.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it say?

VAN DAM: It is folded up and it had a little heart sticking it closed, a sticker. She put stickers on it. It says "To Dad" on the outside. And when you open it, it says, "To Dad, I am sorry. I will try to be nice. Will you forgive me? From Danielle." And then it has "I love you" and "Eye heart U" (ph) and "You are the best dad ever."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know what she had done wrong to have her sent to the room on that occasion?

VAN DAM: I think on this occasion it was a fight with Dillon (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she have other ones of those?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it like being her father?

VAN DAM: It was fun. She was very adventurous. She liked to try anything. She loved to help. She loved to help other people. She loved to be involved. She was so involved with Brenda and I and things we did. That was really nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

VAN DAM: All right.


Thank you Mr. van Dam. You can give that to Mr. Dusek on your way by. Please remember you are still under an admonition not to discuss the case, but you may remain in the courtroom.

Ladies and gentlemen, just like in the first phase, scheduling sometimes becomes a problem. I have been advised by Mr. Dusek that the witnesses he intended to call this morning have been concluded. So what we are going to is take an early lunch break, but it's going to be a little longer than normal because the afternoon group is scheduled to be in his office at a certain time, so we couldn't back it up much earlier. So we are going to be in break until 1:00. So that means you are going to have about a two-hour lunch break.

PHILLIPS: You have you been listening to the evidence that was being heard in that sentencing phase of David Westerfield, the man convicted of kidnapping and killing little Danielle van Dam.





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