A lawyer for the San Diego man accused of kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Danielle van Dam told jurors Wednesday that the girl must have known her killer, a theory of the case that would exonerate his client.
Attorney Steven Feldman, delivering his closing argument in the two-month trial of David Westerfield on the day that jurors were due to begin their deliberations, said Danielle would have screamed, waking her family, if she had been grabbed by an unknown intruder in the night.
"The only thing logical is that when the little girl wakes up she knows who's in there," Feldman said. "If she wakes up and sees (Westerfield) or anyone else, she's going to scream 'Help me mommy, help me daddy.'
Feldman said Westerfield had had never been in the van Dam home in the quiet San Diego suburb of Sabre Springs before Danielle vanished on the night of Feb. 1, and could not have found her bedroom in the dark.
"There's no way someone unfamiliar with this residence could do this," he said.
Feldman, during an impassioned summation, also reminded jurors again of a key point for the defense: that investigators who combed through the van Dam home in the days after she disappeared found no trace of Westerfield there, but discovered fingerprints that were never identified.
"They have to stretch. There's too many holes. There's no smoking gun," he said.
Feldman did not name the person who he believed could have murdered Danielle, but the defense has maintained throughout the trial that she was probably abducted and killed by someone her parents knew through their party-going lifestyle.
According to testimony at trial, Damon and Brenda van Dam smoked marijuana and drank alcohol with friends on the night their daughter was snatched. Brenda van Dam and two of her female friends also spent that night at a local bar, where they ran into Westerfield.
They returned to the van Dam home with two other men and one of Brenda's friends briefly climbed into bed with Damon.
"If you engage in sex and drug behavior ... who are you inviting into your home?" Feldman said during his statement Tuesday. "When you invite the world in you don't know what you bring."
A six-man, six-woman San Diego jury is expected to begin deliberating kidnap, murder and possession of child pornography charges against Westerfield on Thursday, after the conclusion of final arguments. Westerfield could face the death penalty if convicted.
The trial has proceeded during a summer when passions have run high in America over the abductions of young girls, inflamed by a series of high-profile cases even as experts insist that such crimes are not on the rise.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek said during his closing argument on Tuesday that Westerfield, who lived two doors away from the van Dam family, was driven by violent sexual fantasies about young girls to kidnap, assault and kill Danielle - a crime he called "the ultimate evil."
"He's guilty to the core," Dusek said.
Dusek said Westerfield probably entered the van Dam home in through an unlocked garage door and crept into Danielle's bedroom, where he became trapped after Brenda van Dam and her friends returned from the bar. He said Westerfield then likely hid in Danielle's bedroom until her parents fell asleep before grabbing the girl and leaving through a sliding glass door.
"He gets penned in and hides somewhere, probably in her room," Dusek told jurors. "The bottom line is, though, he did it."
Westerfield took the girl to his home and then on a trip in his motor home, the prosecutor said. Dusek speculated that Danielle was killed in the motor home.
Danielle's body, found dumped by a rural road three weeks after she vanished, was so badly decomposed that investigators were unable to determine if she was sexually assaulted.
Feldman used part of his closing argument to attack Dusek's version of the crime, telling jurors that Westerfield could not have known about the unlocked garage door or found his way through the van Dam home in the dark -- while someone who had spent time there could.
He said there was also no evidence to suggest that Danielle was killed in her bed or was tied up and gagged by her abductor before he left the home, which could mean that she was not afraid of him.
He reminded the jury that Westerfield, a twice-divorced father of two, had no record of crimes against children and had been in a series of relationships with grown women, dismissing a prosecution theory that the stress from a recent break-up could have sent him over the edge.
"That's going to cause him to change into a child killer?" he said. "No, that's just not logical."
Feldman also said Westerfield's behavior during the first days after Danielle disappeared was evidence of his innocence, noting that he returned home, two doors away, rather than trying to flee.
"If you've just done something, why not go to Mexico?" he said. "It's only 17 miles down the road."