CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Brenda, Damon van Dam
Aired June 11, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NANCY GRACE, GUEST HOST: Tonight, exclusive. The whole nation was gripped during the most extensive manhunt in California history, when their daughter, 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam, was kidnapped from her own bedroom. Tonight, Brenda and Damon Van Dam speak out for the first time on the verdict, a civil suit and jailhouse letters from death row written by the neighbor who kidnapped and murdered their girl, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
She lit the whole room up with a smile even at the tender age of 7. And now, with their daughter gone, Brenda and Damon Van Dam speak out for the first time since mounting their own civil suit against their neighbor, David Westerfield. He was convicted and sentenced to death in the kidnap and murder of their little girl.
Welcome to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace from Court TV, in for Larry tonight. Thank you for being with us.
Brenda and Damon, welcome.
BRENDA VAN DAM, DANIELLE VAN DAM'S MOTHER: Thank you.
GRACE: I watched you throughout the trial, and you have become a hero to the victims' rights movement in this country. So a very, very special welcome to you. Speaking of watching the trial, I'll never forget the first time I saw Danielle's face on TV and then the moment we learned that her body had been found. Damon, you tucked her in that night. That is the last time you ever saw Danielle alive. What happened after you tucked her in?
DAMON VAN DAM, DANIELLE VAN DAM'S FATHER: After tucking her in -- a regular night -- Brenda had gone out that night. And when her and some friends came back home later, we hung out for a little while and then went back to bed. And it was a seemingly normal night, so we didn't think anything special. You know, I'm glad I got to tuck her in. I'm glad I got to give her a last hug and kiss and say good night to her.
GRACE: Did you normally tuck her in every night?
D. VAN DAM: Normally, I read with them. Sometimes Brenda reads with them. And that's usually our end of the day, yes.
GRACE: Did she have a favorite thing to read?
B. VAN DAM: "Frog and Toad" was one of her favorites.
D. VAN DAM: She liked all the "Frog and Toads." She...
B. VAN DAM: And the "Little Bear Treasury."
D. VAN DAM: Yes. And actually, she had started doing -- writing her ABCs. So I think that night she did some of her ABCs. She would go to the dictionary and write out some words.
B. VAN DAM: She would pick words and write them and write the definition. And she did that on her own. We'd never asked her to do that.
GRACE: I'm just imagining, what is it like to wake up the next morning. You get out of bed. You go turn on the coffee machine. And then suddenly, your world stops. What happened that next morning, February 2002?
B. VAN DAM: Well, you never think that anything like this is going to happen to you. And we live in a safe neighborhood. At least, we thought it was a safe neighborhood. I actually got up and took a shower and just the regular things. Derek and Dillon (ph) were already awake. And my neighbor was dropping off her children for me to watch for a couple hours that day. And when they came over, I told their daughter that they could go up and wake Danielle up because Danielle was a late sleeper.
GRACE: This was around 9:00 AM, right?
B. VAN DAM: Yes. And so they were still playing in the family room, and I thought I would go and wake her up myself because I like to lay with her and talk to her. And I didn't tuck her in the night before, so I thought I would have a little time just one on one with Danielle. And when I got up there, she wasn't in her room. And so I...
GRACE: Door closed, open?
B. VAN DAM: The door was open. I went and looked in the restroom because sometimes she's in the bathroom quite a while, just sitting there half asleep. And she wasn't there. And then I asked Damon if she had slept in her own bed because once in awhile, they'd play shuffle and she would end up in Derek's room or -- he has two beds in there. And we just -- he said she slept in her own bed, and we just started searching. And then panic started to strike and we...
GRACE: When? When?
B. VAN DAM: Well, when I realized...
GRACE: You see her not in her bed.
B. VAN DAM: ... that she wasn't in the room, and you -- when you...
B. VAN DAM: ... we started going outside, and we started looking over the fence.
D. VAN DAM: Yes, it was...
B. VAN DAM: We looked in the jacuzzi.
D. VAN DAM: Pulling things from under the beds, out of closets. And real quickly, it became -- you know, we realized it was a very bad thing and just...
GRACE: Do you remember that moment, when it went from, Danielle, wake up, to hysteria setting in?
B. VAN DAM: It's hard to remember. I know we went out front and we called 911. I called 911. I don't remember much about that phone call. And I couldn't remember...
GRACE: You called 911. I remember hearing that tape.
D. VAN DAM: Yes. That was about...
B. VAN DAM: There's a lot that I couldn't remember.
D. VAN DAM: That was about when things went totally insane for me and stayed there, was when -- when I came back in the house and she said, Should I call 911? And I said, yes, and...
B. VAN DAM: And when they were asking me questions, it was so hard to remember the color of her eyes and -- it was like I was so devastated that I just couldn't think of all of that and...
GRACE: Well, during the time -- the search ensued. During the time -- and this was a massive manhunt, a hunt for Danielle. What did you imagine? What did you tell yourself to get through the night, to imagine where was Danielle?
B. VAN DAM: The first night was the hardest because as it got dark, I realized she wasn't in -- she was most likely in an unfamiliar place.
GRACE: So this was what, about 6:00 PM, 7:00 PM?
B. VAN DAM: Yes. And it was cold, and I didn't know if she was being taken care of. That was really difficult. The first night was so hard because I -- you know, I didn't know where my daughter was. And I should be the one person in the world that knows where she was, and it was someone else. And...
GRACE: Had she ever wandered away before?
B. VAN DAM: Never. Never. She was a wonderful little girl, and she would not wander off. And she wouldn't even have hid in the house that long, playing a joke. You know, got really out of hand. I do remember, though -- a friend told me this later -- that she came up to Danielle -- to Damon, and he was sitting on the curb out front. And she said, What's going on? And he was crying, and he said, Someone took my little girl. Someone took my baby girl. And he was on the curb crying. And these are things I didn't even know were going on because I was searching in my neighbor's yard and...
GRACE: What did you think had happened to her?
B. VAN DAM: I had no idea. I had no idea because, you know, she was in her bed. That's the last place I would think someone would come and take her from...
GRACE: Did you torture yourself because you did not check on her during the night?
B. VAN DAM: Well...
GRACE: Well, why should you?
B. VAN DAM: The odd thing is, I think -- I think a lot of people attacked us because I didn't open the doors and check on her that night. But when Damon and I were talking, I had asked him, How did the tuck-in go? Because I'm always there to tuck them in and say good night to them. And he said everything went fine. And I asked him if anyone had asked for me, and he said no. So I just figured everything was fine, and I went to bed. And I -- you know, I thought I would see them in the morning and talk about their night with them. But that never happened.
GRACE: What were police telling you during the search?
B. VAN DAM: They didn't tell us much. They did, though -- they did have conversations with our search director. What happened is, a friend of ours came across Laura (ph) Recovery Foundation and contacted them. And in order for them to come out, they have to be contacted by the police department or the family. So we called them, and they came out and they started a search center for Danielle. And it was -- the search center was set up at the Doubletree in Carl (ph) Mountain.
They don't stay there for a long period of time. So then after that, we had to assign people to that search center. So we asked friends if they would assume positions within the search center, and they did. And so the director of the search center is a friend of mine who is a retired police officer. So we were very fortunate that that search center was headed up by Diane Hafman (ph).
GRACE: Well, what would you do during the day?
B. VAN DAM: Well...
GRACE: You couldn't go out on the search, for evidentiary reasons.
B. VAN DAM: Right.
GRACE: Did police tell you you could not search?
D. VAN DAM: Yes. I went out on one search at the beginning, and the police said, you know, If you discover evidence -- because I had discovered some things. It was nothing related. But they said... (CROSSTALK)
D. VAN DAM: ... Anything you discover is going to be a problem, you know, because they'll say it's tainted. So it's best if you don't...
GRACE: So you couldn't...
D. VAN DAM: ... so I didn't...
GRACE: ... really go search for your own daughter.
D. VAN DAM: No.
B. VAN DAM: No.
D. VAN DAM: So we'd support the search people. We'd go pick up water or buy food or pick up food. There was a lot of...
B. VAN DAM: And thank them on a daily basis.
D. VAN DAM: There was a lot of volunteers, as well as businesses that contributed. So we'd run around and do that. And then I did a few searches in the desert, where we just kind of mapped out possibilities for future searches but didn't really get out and look at -- you know, look for anything.
B. VAN DAM: I just want to tell you that the people who ran our search center, we were so fortunate to have them because the map room door was locked every night, so no one could get in there. Only the director and the person mapping would go in there. And the police department would come in, and they would share their information with our search center so we wouldn't be double-searching. But no one else was allowed in that room, and that information had to stay there. So having a retired police officer as our director was a benefit to us.
GRACE: When it was all said and done, literally thousands of volunteers had helped and joined the search to find 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam. And tonight, speaking out, her parents, Brenda and Damon. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. VAN DAM: And Damon came upstairs, and he started looking with me. And we were yelling out her name. And then we went downstairs. Damon went out front and I went out back, but we couldn't find her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRACE: They pleaded with the public for help, help in finding their 7-year-old daughter Danielle van Dam. It's every parent's worst nightmare. Her own dad had tucked her into bed that night, the night before, in a beautiful girl's room painted pink and purple. Danielle was never seen alive again. Her abductor, their own neighbor. Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace from Court TV in for Larry tonight. Thank you for being with us. Brenda and Damon van Dam. Again, thank you for being with us.
I want to move you forward. We all know that the police arrested your neighbor, David Westerfield. Had you ever had a hint, a clue that you should be in fear of your own neighbor?
B. VAN DAM: Never. We didn't socialize with him or anything. Danielle and I had sold Girl Scout cookies to him two years...
B. VAN DAM: Twice. And then there was a fund-raiser at school where we went and sold gift wrap, but...
GRACE: When you first saw him, the press was on his front steps, in his front yard, asking him questions, what was your immediate reaction when you saw him being questioned? What did you think?
B. VAN DAM: I was surprised. Because he seemed to be so -- well, he was established. And he was -- he had a family. I'd see his children in and out of the house. I didn't understand how a person of that magnitude could just one night commit a crime. I didn't know a lot about David Westerfield at the time. But I didn't know -- I didn't understand why they would focus on him.
GRACE: And Damon, after all this searching, the wondering, the imagining, about where was Danielle, what did you do when you realized your own neighbor had taken her?
D. VAN DAM: It was such a circus, and everything was so surreal at that time. We more stuck with the focus of, let's find Danielle and let the police deal with who might have done it. So I didn't really worry about it much at all. The police seemed to be doing their job well. Seemed to know what they were doing. So we let them do their job.
GRACE: You were watched throughout all across the country throughout the preliminary hearing and during the trial. And very quickly we all realized that the defense would be to attack the victims. You were literally dragged through the mud on a daily basis. The local radio deejays had a field day with your reputation being crucified. You were made out to be promiscuous sexaholics who somehow introduced a predator into your own home.
Now, you are dealing with the loss of your daughter, and now an attack on your reputation. How did you get the strength to go to the courthouse every day, especially with that on the radio?
B. VAN DAM: Well, one of the ways I protected myself from that was I didn't watch the TV. I didn't listen to the radio. I did know what was being said about us, because I have very dear friends that would listen to that and they would come and just say, this is what was said today, this is what's being said. But the reason I went to court every day is because I knew the truth in the end would come out. I had nothing to hide. I did not do anything to hurt my child. I have never put my children in harm's way. And I knew that in the end, everybody would see that. So I went to court every day to make sure that this person paid for what he did to my daughter and that he wasn't able to hurt another child.
GRACE: When you would sit in court, Brenda, would you look up at the jury and meet their eyes?
B. VAN DAM: I was instructed not to do that. And in the beginning, I would kind of glance over, just out of curiosity. And a couple of them complained that I was staring. And so, Jeff came to me and said, do not look at the jury. And at that point I tried very hard not to.
GRACE: Did that hurt your feelings?
B. VAN DAM: It did, because I was scolded for everything I did. Any little thing I did.
I went into a market one day. And it just so happened that his daughter worked there. And I had no clue. And they thought that I was going in there because I was tracking her down.
GRACE: Let me get this straight. Your daughter is kidnapped and murdered, and you are reprimanded for going to the grocery?
B. VAN DAM: Yes.
GRACE: OK. I think I got it now. Did you ever look over at him, at David Allen Westerfield? Did he ever have the guts to turn around and look you in the face?
B. VAN DAM: He did stare back at us. We would get up to leave the courtroom and I caught him on several occasions staring at me. And I asked the prosecuting attorneys to tell him to stop. He was not to look back at me. And so they went to the defense attorney and talked to him about it. And he didn't do it again.
GRACE: Now, Damon, you, on the other hand, were thrown out of the courtroom by Judge Mudd. And I was wondering how you felt then at the time, why you were thrown out, and in retrospect, how do you feel about that?
D. VAN DAM: At that time, I felt it was very unfair. I still do. The information the judge had, basically what I did to get thrown out was I looked at him. And the bailiffs perceived that as I was planning to kill him, or whatever. But all I did was look at him. And there was two metal detectors before you got in the courtroom anyway, so it seemed ridiculous to me, still seems ridiculous to me. But the information the judge had to go on with that was what the bailiffs told him. So I believe he did...
GRACE: What he thought was best.
D. VAN DAM: He thought was best with that information.
GRACE: And then you were allowed back in?
D. VAN DAM: Yes. Spencer, our lawyer, petitioned to get me back in. And there was a hearing. And I got to go back in.
GRACE: For a long time you were in there, you were in a courtroom full of people, but you were without your husband.
B. VAN DAM: Right.
GRACE: Every day.
B. VAN DAM: I'd have friends with me. I want to tell you one of the reasons why Damon was thrown out. The courthouse down there is very old. And so they actually have to transport the prisoner through the public to get him into the courtroom. Well, Damon was going to the restroom one morning, and David Westerfield was being transported from the jail to the courtroom and they would block off the area. And Damon just happened to be there. And stopped. Didn't know what was going on. Out comes David Westerfield and he says "good morning" to Damon.
D. VAN DAM: Just before he turned the corner.
B. VAN DAM: Just before he turned the corner. So Damon couldn't respond. And it made him so angry. And then Damon was at one time going into the restroom, which was behind the courtroom. And behind the courtroom, here is David Westerfield going into the courtroom. Damon looked in the mirror and he made...
D. VAN DAM: Through the door.
B. VAN DAM: Through the door, there was a window on the door.
D. VAN DAM: Through a sealed door.
B. VAN DAM: Damon realized it was David Westerfield going behind the courtroom, and he looked in. And so I guess they thought he was stalking him.
GRACE: Thought that was in a threatening mode. Well, that's defined how do you do first thing in the morning, the man on trial for the murder of your 7-year-old wishing you a good morning. That's only part of what the van Dams lived through during the trial of David Allen Westerfield, their neighbor, now convicted in the kidnap and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam. But that's only part of the story. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. VAN DAM: I looked forward to so many precious times in her life that we would share. For instance, her first date, her first prom, college, marriage, and her becoming a mother herself. And then one night all of these precious moments were taken away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. VAN DAM: If I only had one thing to say to any parent, it would be please do not take one moment of your child's life for granted. For they all are so precious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRACE: They endured a parent's worst nightmare, tucking their daughter into bed and then waking up the next morning to find her gone, forever. Brenda and Damon van Dam lived through an extensive manhunt for their little girl, only to discover their own neighbor, David Allen Westerfield, had taken her from her own bedroom. Danielle's body was discovered, discarded on a back country road.
Welcome back to LARRY KING. I'm Nancy Grace in for Larry tonight. Thank you for being with us.
You sat through this trial day after day after day. What do you think was the state's, the prosecution's strongest piece of evidence?
D. VAN DAM: The amount of it was more than anything, I think. The handprint probably, maybe the blood stain. But there was...
B. VAN DAM: And the fiber.
D. VAN DAM: Yes, there was just so much of it.
B. VAN DAM: The dog hair.
D. VAN DAM: There was dog hair everywhere. There was her hair. You know, it was...
GRACE: Your dog's hair was found...
D. VAN DAM: Danielle -- yes.
GRACE: ... in his home.
D. VAN DAM: Danielle loved...
B. VAN DAM: In his dryer, sheets.
D. VAN DAM: ... playing with the dog, so that night, she had dog hair all over her pajamas. So when he took her, the dog hair got everywhere.
GRACE: I know you've looked (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like a Rubik's cube a million times. How do you think he got into the home? Because you were out with your girlfriends that night at Dad's (ph) Bar. He was there, propped up against a -- a -- what was it?
B. VAN DAM: A post. GRACE: A post -- staring at you. The next thing you know, you wake up the next morning, Danielle is gone. What's the timeline, in your mind?
D. VAN DAM: We think now that it was -- before they got home, he had come in the side garage door because it -- we think it was left open, right?
B. VAN DAM: It was unlocked.
D. VAN DAM: The last person in the garage thinks it was left open. And then he was hiding in the house when they got home, and then left through the back door. And I'm almost positive he left through the back door because I discovered that door open when I got up in the middle of the night.
GRACE: During the trial, did you ever think the jury would let him go?
D. VAN DAM: No.
B. VAN DAM: No.
D. VAN DAM: If the media played it out real well and made it like it was an almost even game. But when you sat in the court every day and listened to the evidence, it was quite obvious that they wouldn't let him go.
GRACE: Now, you decided to file a civil suit after the jury verdict. The jury came down with a guilty verdict. Why did you decide to go forward with a civil suit?
B. VAN DAM: Because we didn't want him to have the opportunity to write a book or make a movie and profit off of it...
GRACE: ... off of Danielle.
B. VAN DAM: Off of Danielle. That was -- that was our main concern, was just making sure that he didn't profit off of his crime.
GRACE: I'm very surprised you had the strength to mount your own lawsuit against him. Do you recall the moment the jury handed down the guilty verdict?
B. VAN DAM: Yes.
GRACE: Tell me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... guilty of the crime of murder in violation...
(END VIDEO CLIP) B. VAN DAM: It was a big relief. Even though -- even though, I knew the evidence was overwhelming, I knew that the defense attorney was throwing a lot of fog and smoke in the air and trying to confuse the jurors. I was very fortunate that they were listening and that they did such a wonderful job. I was a little concerned, but I think the evidence that -- they did not even process all of the evidence and use it in that trial. They didn't have time. So since then, they have more evidence that's been completed.
GRACE: Because I understand that even up until closing arguments, the state was still finding more evidence.
B. VAN DAM: They were.
GRACE: Like what?
B. VAN DAM: They found orange fibers, which -- and one of the -- one of the things that really -- this was a hard day for me. It was when they found a greenish or a blue-colored fiber on the headboard of his bed in the motor home, and it was also in her hair.
B. VAN DAM: And I ran out of the courtroom. I dropped my purse twice, and I was crying because right then, I knew that he had -- you know, there wasn't a doubt in my mind before, but that piece of evidence was -- just sealed it.
GRACE: What about that piece of evidence got you so upset?
B. VAN DAM: Just the thought of what she went through.
GRACE: The thought of her being in David Allen Westerfield's bed in his motor home.
B. VAN DAM: Yes. The thought of the pain that she must have endured and what she went through. It went through me.
GRACE: Were you there at that moment? Were you in the courtroom?
D. VAN DAM: Yes.
GRACE: And your response?
D. VAN DAM: The same thing. It hurts like hell to know that, you know, the last hours of her life were -- she was tortured. You know, it's...
B. VAN DAM: I just...
D. VAN DAM: Nobody should have to die that way.
B. VAN DAM: I hope that God...
D. VAN DAM: You know, and Westerfield's going to get to choose his own meal and go peacefully. Why does he have that? He didn't give her that.
GRACE: Do you remember when you realized that Danielle's remains had been found?
B. VAN DAM: I do. I had gone with a friend, and she got a phone call. She was the director of the search center, and she got a phone call that something was found. And she said, Brenda, I need to take you home. They found something. So I went home, and we waited. While we were waiting, I think Ginny Woods (ph) came over. All of our friends gathered in our home.
D. VAN DAM: That's one of the detectives.
B. VAN DAM: Ginny Woods was one of the detectives. I'm sorry. And Lieutenant Jim Collins (ph) was one of the detectives, and he actually came to our house. He had gone to the scene, identified the body, and then he came to our house and we went into the office...
GRACE: Did you know inside before they got there?
B. VAN DAM: I didn't know until he -- until the words came out of his mouth because I couldn't give up hope. I had prayed every day that Danielle would come home alive, and I knew that with the relationship that we had, that we could work through it, and I would be there behind her 100 percent for the rest of her life, helping her survive. But when those words came out of his mouth...
GRACE: What were his words?
B. VAN DAM: ... and he told me it was Danielle -- he said, I've identified the body, and it's Danielle. And I -- I think the neighbors two doors down could hear me screaming. It was very difficult.
GRACE: Everyone stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. VAN DAM: Before they arrested him, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called us into his office to let us know that it was happening and the reason why they were arresting him. And when he mentioned blood, I had a major breakdown because I so wanted to believe she was alive!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... find the defendant, David Allen Westerfield, guilty of the crime of kidnapping. And we further find that the victim of the kidnapping was under the age of 14 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRACE: Can you imagine searching and searching day after day, night after night, handing out flyers, begging the public, all in the hope you could bring your 7-year-old girl back home. That was the nightmare endured by Brenda and Damon Van Dam, and now they speak out after mounting their own civil suit against the neighbor convicted for Danielle's murder and sentenced to the California death row.
Brenda, you were describing panic attacks that you suffer now. Describe.
B. VAN DAM: Well, I never had any of this happen before. Sometimes when I get into a situation, I start to feel like the room is spinning, the walls are closing in, and I feel very close to passing out. And I found out that they were panic attacks caused by stress. During the trial, I started losing my hair. One of the things I was telling you out back is I just -- I had so much stress, my hair started falling out. And it's amazing what stress can do to your body.
GRACE: When the panic attack -- what would set off the panic attack?
B. VAN DAM: Large groups of people, just being around people in general. Every time I would go out of the house, everybody knew who I was. People were talking. Oh, my gosh. There's Mrs. Van Dam. And it wasn't bad. It wasn't that they were talking bad. But everyone knew me. There was nothing private in my life, nothing at all. And that didn't bother me so much, but it was just the fact that I didn't get -- you know, and it was very nice that people cared because some people would stare and point or, you know, point to their person with them, Oh, look, there's the Van Dams. A lot of the people would come and say hello and give me a hug, and that's -- that was nice because I would go out on a day when I didn't feel like getting out of bed, and I would get a hug from a perfect stranger, telling me that they cared about our family and that Danielle would never be forgotten.
GRACE: Did you ever get reprimanded or attacked or mistreated in public, someone would come up and blame you somehow?
B. VAN DAM: Never happened in public. I don't think anyone has the guts to do that. We did receive a couple letters that were ugly, and we didn't even finish reading them. We threw them away. I think...
D. VAN DAM: And the few letters we got like that didn't have any return address.
B. VAN DAM: No, return address. No one was even...
GRACE: Of course.
B. VAN DAM: You know, just a cowardly way of trying to voice their opinion. And that's fine. Everyone has an opinion. I know what kind of mother I am. I know what kind of parent I am. And I know what kind of person I am, and I'm a wonderful parent, and I love my children. I adore them, and I would never do anything to hurt them. But one of the things is -- you know, like, we got a couple phone calls from people who got our number, saying, Oh, we know you're involved . Just give it up, or whatever. And just people who, you know, had nothing better to do than -- and most of it was positive. I must tell you, I've received thousands and thousands of cards and e- mails, and most of them are positive.
GRACE: Before this trial, before Danielle went missing, were you pro or anti-death penalty, Damon?
D. VAN DAM: Pro, but not strongly so. You know, it wasn't close to me, so I never gave it that much thought.
GRACE: And now?
D. VAN DAM: Now definitely pro-death penalty.
B. VAN DAM: I wasn't strongly pro. And to be honest with you, in the beginning, I would have -- if I knew definitely I wasn't going to find my daughter, if we were still sitting here today...
B. VAN DAM: ... and I had not found Danielle, I can't -- I could not have gone the rest of my life not knowing where she was. And I would -- Damon and I agreed to give that up in the beginning. We went to Pa Finks (ph), and we said, you know, We need to know where our daughter is. Could you at least try to bargain with him and use the death penalty as your bargaining chip?
GRACE: Which was so interesting because, as we saw the defense mount its case, including an attack on you, as the figurehead of the defense, inside, you knew all along that the defendant, David Westerfield, had agreed to tell you where Danielle's body was if you would agree to life behind bars, as opposed to the death penalty.
D. VAN DAM: And on top of it, he agreed that through his lawyer, Feldman...
D. VAN DAM: ... which means that Feldman and Bois (ph) also had to know that he was actually guilty...
GRACE: So you sat...
D. VAN DAM: ... while they -- while they were advocates. As Feldman says, he's only an advocate, not an evil guy. Well...
GRACE: So throughout this whole thing...
D. VAN DAM: He knew it the whole time, and he continued to do anything...
B. VAN DAM: Well, what actually happened...
D. VAN DAM: ... to get his client off, regardless of how evil that was.
B. VAN DAM: The day that Danielle's body was found is the day that the defense attorney went in front of Pa Finks -- actually, both of them, Feldman and Bois -- and they were actually trying to plea bargain. I guess Paulson Howell (ph) got a call, and he called Jim Collins, Lieutenant Jim Collins...
B. VAN DAM: ... and he said, I have two attorneys in front of me right now trying to cut a deal. And Jim Collins said, There's no deal. I just identified the body.
GRACE: When you realized the state was going forward with the death penalty, what did you think?
B. VAN DAM: At that point, I -- we had found Danielle, and it didn't really matter to me either way. I've got to be honest with you. As long as I knew that he was not able to get out and hurt another child again, that's all that mattered to me was keeping other children safe in the world and away from him and him away from them.
GRACE: Now, it's my understanding you actually want to go and see San Quentin, where Westerfield is housed. Why?
D. VAN DAM: See what his life's like now. You know, I -- I imagine it can't be as bad as it should be, but from what I've seen in his letters, it's not a great place. Whether we'll ever go do that, I seriously doubt it. And I know a regular visitor to San Quentin can't actually go into the prison. They've only got a gift shop.
GRACE: Any interest?
B. VAN DAM: I'm not really that interested. I would go in support of Damon. He has supported me through a lot, through forming the foundation and all the legislation I have worked on and all that. I would go in support of him.
GRACE: When we come back, speaking of letters from David Allen Westerfield from California death row, he has been sending out quite a few of them and suggesting alternate defense theories, including that he was framed by police, as well as Danielle's parents. When we come back, we'll take a look at those letters and we will meet the Van Dams' attorney. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury in the above entitled cause, find the defendant, David Allen Westerfield, guilty of the crime of murder and fixed the degree thereof as murder in the first degree.
GRACE: Danielle's picture spoke to millions of viewers across the country, as volunteers combed the California countryside looking for the little girl. Just before a deal was cut with the state's chief suspect, Danielle's remains were discovered discarded near a secluded back road. The murder trial that ensued nearly destroyed the Van Dams. But tonight they speak out for the first time after mounting their own civil suit against the man convicted for their daughter's death.
Welcome back to LARRY KING. I'm Nancy Grace from Court TV, in for Larry tonight. Thank you for being with us tonight. With us, Brenda and Damon Van Dam, and now their attorney, Spencer Busby. Thank you for being with us.
SPENCER BUSBY, VAN DAMS' ATTORNEY: Thank you.
GRACE: During the search, you guys went through hell. Then you lived through the trial, the ordeal of losing your daughter. You know, that could destroy a lot of marriages. And rumors were that you split. Did you ever split?
B. VAN DAM: No.
GRACE: You're still here together with a united front.
B. VAN DAM: There -- to be honest with you, there are many times that we probably thought that we wanted to.
D. VAN DAM: Yes.
B. VAN DAM: But, no. We've had a lot of stress. We have had -- you know, there's a lot of friction between the two of us not because -- we've never blamed each other for what happened. It's just, I think, something that comes with losing a child. But we worked through it.
GRACE: You told me something very heart0breaking when we were on a break regarding Danielle's remains and her hands.
B. VAN DAM: Well, they had to take Danielle's hands off of her body and use them. They were in the evidence room in a bag. So when we actually -- I didn't know this until later, but when we actually had her cremated, her hands were not with her. And they told us at the time that we would never get them back. But since then, since the trial ended, a couple months after that, we got a call that they released the hands and they're at the mortuary, and we should have them soon.
GRACE: And what will you do when you get her hands?
B. VAN DAM: We will add them to her urn.
D. VAN DAM: She's in an urn at the top of the stairs with...
B. VAN DAM: She stays (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
D. VAN DAM: ... with her grandpa, who's also up there because we don't have a place right now to bury her.
B. VAN DAM: I don't want to bury her because if I ever leave California, then I would have dig her up and take her with me. So she's going to stay in our house. And when I get up every morning, I can go say hello to her. I know she's there with me every day, and I just feel more comfortable having it that way.
GRACE: You have taken your pain and you have tried to do something very positive out of that. The daniellelegacy.org is the site for your foundation.
B. VAN DAM: Yes.
GRACE: The civil suit that you helped them mount, what were the main points of a civil suit against David Westerfield? I mean, he's sitting on death row. What more do you want?
BUSBY: Well, we wanted to stop him from having any money at all. He had assets during this trial that he didn't even disclose, apparently. A stock account. He had a motor home. He had his home.
GRACE: Wait a minute. The man is on trial for the murder of a 7-year-old girl and he's hiding his assets? He's concerned about some money in an account somewhere?
BUSBY: Well, it wasn't about the money for Brenda and Damon.
GRACE: Him. Westerfield.
BUSBY: We know his money was -- had hired Mr. Feldman, was revictimizing these people and treating them like rape victims, as Marc Klaas said, in the trial. And we wanted to stop him from using that money to revictimize them again. We don't want him to even have money to buy a candy bar in prison, as has been said. We just don't want him to do anything -- to write a book. We've done a release where we can go forward and sue him again.
GRACE: And there are horror stories. For instance, Charles Manson has his own gift shop, Web site. He makes money. Gacy drew those horrific oil paintings of clowns and actually sold them for a profit.
BUSBY: Yes, there's people out there who will profiteer from this.
GRACE: It's crazy.
BUSBY: It is nuts. And we -- myself, other attorneys in San Diego, we worked pro-bono, no fees, to help these people to get whatever we can. I've had friends that have even...
GRACE: Now that's rare for a lawyer to work pro-bono. I have got to hand it to you on that.
BUSBY: And it wasn't only myself. We had attorneys in San Diego. We had a mediator who volunteers his time, Doug Glass (ph). We had my associates Todd Tappy (ph), Rebecca Mulberry (ph), Tom Grady (ph). We all stepped up. We wanted to do whatever we could for these guys to help them out because they went through so much. They sat a whole year in this trial and put this guy away. I mean, they were victimized in ways you don't even hear about. Their car was keyed at one time.
GRACE: Well one thing that you managed to get from this civil lawsuit that you guys mounted against Westerfield is the opportunity to possibly deposition him at some point. Now, do you really think Westerfield is going to come out of his cell and meet you and look you face-to-face and answer questions? Do you really think that's going to happen?
B. VAN DAM: No.
GRACE: I don't think it is either.
B. VAN DAM: No.
GRACE: Because he sat by while you were searching for your girl for weeks. He sat by -- do you really think -- do you think?
B. VAN DAM: If he had any remorse at all...
BUSBY: Nancy, he doesn't have remorse. But he's sitting there writing letters right now about...
GRACE: Oh, I've read them. I got them right here. They're shocking. He has a whole theory that you guys snuck into his motor home and planted Danielle's blood, that you got off her pajamas mixed with water. Have you ever heard anything like it in your life?
B. VAN DAM: No, but I think he did this for a reason. I think that he sent them to someone locally that he knows, and he wanted them to be exposed so that maybe San Diego would think that he was wrongly prosecuted. And I think it was a slap in the face to him, because Paul Finks came out and he told everyone what really happened and that there was a plea bargain in the works.
GRACE: That he knew where the body was.
B. VAN DAM: He knew where the body was. And so right there he's guilty.
BUSBY: And he's indicated in one of his letters that he's mulling writing a book. So we thought all along he would think about this.
GRACE: Well, he also talks about the new trial. We'll talk about that when we come back.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. VAN DAM: It's folded up and it had a little heart sticking it closed. Sticker with stickers on 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," an I heart you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRACE: If you could speak out to victims tonight, what would be your words to them?
B. VAN DAM: This is one of my big goals now in life is, if you have surviving children, I have to work as hard as I can to make sure that their life is as normal as possible. And I have also felt a little gratification from trying to make something positive come from something so negative.
GRACE: We're talking about Kid Safe and Danielle Legacy Foundation.
B. VAN DAM: I formed the Danielle Legacy Foundation. We are 50123 non-profit. There are two projects that I'm working on. One is the Danielle I.D. program. And the other is trying to establish a safe escape school, like a seminar in each school yearly so that we can empower our children with the tools to get away from these predators. I really feel that if Danielle had this knowledge the way that she was carted around, somehow she could have drawn attention to herself. And she probably didn't know that she was able to disobey this person.
She was such a sweet little girl, and she was always taught about her private parts and about telling mommy and daddy when someone hurts you. But I didn't teach her the right things. And the right things are to teach them that if you're with someone and they -- if someone takes you, you can get away. You are allowed to lie. You are allowed to do whatever it takes to survive. And I want every child in the world to know that.
D. VAN DAM: On top of that, Project Kids Safe -- part of it is legislation in California now, now they're trying to get it in 70...
B. VAN DAM: There's a whole package of bills. There's 12. There's a whole package of bills. It's with our local senator, Dennis Hollingsworth. And he actually came to me and started talking to me about it.
GRACE: Do you think the California assembly can actually agree on something and make it happen?
B. VAN DAM: I don't -- I think a lot of -- some of these bills -- like, one of the big things that bothers me in California, these sexual offenders, these sex offenders are released on an honor system and they have to check in.
Now, literally California doesn't know where thousands of these sex offenders are because they don't check in. And there's -- in this package, if you go on daniellelegacy.org, there's a bill in there and it establishes safe teams. And what this group will do is go out and find every registered sex offender and they will track them like parolees.
GRACE: That's quite a task. I can only that the politicians can agree with you.
B. VAN DAM: It cost money and that's why it's not going through.
D. VAN DAM: If enough Californians call their politicians...
D. VAN DAM: It could get passed.
BUSBY: Nancy, I might indicate, there's a silver lining with the fact that Feldman was able to present a full defense for Westerfield. His appeals probably won't have a chance. Every plausible argument was presented.
GRACE: Well put. Well put. Spencer Busby, Damon van Dam, Brenda van Dam, thank you.
B. VAN DAM: Thank you.
BUSBY: Thank you.
D. VAN DAM: Thank you.
GRACE: And we'll have final thoughts in just one moment.
Stay with us.
GRACE: I want to thank you again for being with us tonight.
And one last time that Web site is daniellelegacy.org. Take a look at it. It's a real story of bravery and courage.
Stay tuned. NEWSNIGHT is coming up next. I'm Nancy Grace signing off for tonight for LARRY KING LIVE, and thank you for watching. Bye-bye.
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