Attorneys call friends, colleagues of 7-year-old's killer to testify to his caring side

Friday, August 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Defense attorneys called David Westerfield's family and friends to the stand Thursday to present the killer of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam as a caring man and involved parent whose work has helped thousands.

Westerfield wiped away tears as his sister, identified only as Tania P. for security reasons, broke down while recalling the concern he has shown for his children and the rest of his family.

Danielle van Dam's mother, Brenda, burst into sobs and abruptly left the courtroom during Tania P.'s cross-examination, when prosecutor Jeff Dusek noted that Westerfield got to watch his daughter grow up. The judge instructed jurors to disregard the outburst.

Westerfield, 50, was convicted Aug. 21 of kidnapping Danielle from her second-floor bedroom and killing her. The same jury that convicted him will be asked to recommend whether Westerfield should be sentenced to life in prison or executed.

Defense attorney Steven Feldman called friends and business associates of Westerfield's to testify about his client's ``wonderful, caring'' side.

Tania P. said she and her brother had ``a very nice childhood'' on a farm in Maine, with summers spent water-skiing and winters ice-skating. Their father, Horatio Westerfield, served in the Maine Legislature.

As a teenager, Westerfield moved with his family to San Diego. He graduated high school and worked his way through a local junior college before becoming a design engineer and starting his own business, Spectrum Designs.

Tania P. said that following her father's death in 1993, Westerfield was ``very sensitive to everybody else's needs'' and paid the hospital bills. ``He just stepped in and took care of everything,'' she said.

Westerfield raised a son, Neal, and a daughter, Lisa, and frequently attended school events.

``I just saw David and Neal together all the time. They were very close,'' said Marie Gunther, an acquaintance of Westerfield's.

Tania P., 46, said Westerfield divorced his second wife in 1996 and was concerned about how the split would affect the children. ``He wanted them to grow up in a two-parent environment,'' she said.

Earlier Thursday, two men who worked and socialized with Westerfield for more than 20 years described him as a talented engineer who helped design devices used in physical therapy, airport security and underwater photography.

``He's a very creative guy ... a very talented guy,'' said Carmen Genovese, a San Diego businessman who winked at Westerfield as he took the stand in the second day of the penalty phase.

On cross-examination, Dusek sought to portray Westerfield's role in the development of the devices as limited and motivated by profit.

``Basically, this was his job,'' Dusek said.

On Wednesday, jurors heard Danielle's parents tearfully recall her short life and the painful toll of her death. ``She was one of the most precious gifts anyone could ever receive,'' Brenda van Dam said.

Testimony in the penalty phase is scheduled to resume Tuesday and the jury may begin deliberations by the end of the week.