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Father of Danielle Van Dam Testifies

June 5, 2002 GMT

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SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The father of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam testified Wednesday that he hardly knew the neighbor accused of kidnapping and murdering the girl in February.

Damon van Dam spoke calmly as he recalled occasionally speaking with David Westerfield, who lived two doors away.

The two men had not entered one another’s homes since the van Dams moved into the northern San Diego neighborhood in 1998, he said.

Westerfield, a self-employed engineer, is accused of taking the second-grader from her bedroom sometime after van Dam put her to bed Feb. 1. Her body was found Feb. 27 along a rural road east of the city.

Westerfield, 50, is charged with kidnapping, murder and possession of child pornography. He has pleaded innocent and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The cause of Danielle’s death could not be determined, but prosecutors have suggested she was suffocated. A forensic dentist who also testified Wednesday said three of the girl’s teeth were missing, which prosecutors contend supports the suffocation theory.

Photos of Danielle’s corpse were displayed in the courtroom, showing her badly disfigured face. A friend of the van Dam family who was in court bowed her head, apparently to avoid seeing the photos; another friend wiped away tears.

The images were not visible on the live television broadcast of the trial.

The trial began Tuesday with prosecutors outlining new forensic evidence and the defense seeking to discredit the girl’s parents for giving false statements to police. The trial is expected to last until at least mid-July.

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek told jurors during his opening statement that investigators found Danielle’s hair in Westerfield’s house and 35-foot motor home after she disappeared. He also disclosed that investigators collected several different sets of fibers that link the divorced engineer to the girl’s disappearance.

Defense lawyer Steven Feldman said the evidence would vindicate his client. ``It was impossible _ impossible _ for David Westerfield to have dumped Danielle van Dam in that location,″ he said.