"I have reasonable cause to believe Mr. (David) Westerfield is guilty," said Superior Court Judge H. Ronald Domnitz, setting a March 28 arraignment date for the 50-year-old neighbor of the van Dam family.
The judge's decision followed a day of tearful testimony from Danielle's mother Brenda, who admitted drinking, smoking marijuana, and dancing with several men in a bar on the night her daughter disappeared from her suburban San Diego home.
Grilled by Westerfield's lawyers over what was alleged to be the couple's swinging lifestyle, Danielle's father Damon acknowledged he had gone to bed with one of his wife's girlfriends on the fateful night.
Westerfield, who lived two doors away from the van Dams, has pleaded not guilty to possession of child pornography and to charges of kidnapping and murdering Danielle.
Her badly decomposed body was discovered in a rural area outside San Diego on Feb. 27, a month after she was snatched from her suburban bedroom in the middle of the night.
Brenda van Dam fought back tears as she described her frantic search for Danielle on discovering her bed was empty on the Saturday morning after her night out.
"I started calling her name and looking under beds and into the other rooms," Brenda van Dam said.
"Before I knew it, it was total chaos. There were people on the street. Our neighbors were looking for her," she said.
Van Dam said she had spent the Friday night before Danielle's disappearance at a bar with friends, where she had played pool, smoked marijuana, danced with other men and talked with Westerfield. Her husband Damon was at home with their three children.
She denied having danced with Westerfield, a neighbor, and said he had never been invited back with other friends to her San Diego home.
"I don't recall dancing with David Westerfield," she said, adding, "I did not dance with David Westerfield."
Cross-examining the van Dams, lawyers for Westerfield questioned their sexual practices, drinking habits and use of marijuana.
Brenda van Dam said she did not consider herself to have a drinking habit, admitted having smoked marijuana "maybe 30 times", and said she could not recall having danced provocatively at the bar with another woman.
"I've been through a lot and there is a lot I can't recall," she said at one point.
Brenda van Dam said she had gone with Danielle to Westerfield's house to sell girl scout cookies two or three days before Danielle vanished.
"He asked why I did not introduce him to my friends. He said they looked like a lot of fun ... He asked me to tell my friends I had a rich neighbor to introduce them to," she said, adding it was the first time she had learned Westerfield's name. She could not recall when, or if Westerfield left the bar.
In testimony earlier this week, police said they found 64,000 sexually provocative images of what appeared to be teenage girls in Westerfield's computer files in a search of his home.
Other forensic experts said they had found bloodstains matching Danielle's in Westerfield's motor home and on one of his jackets, and had found her fingerprints in his motorhome.
Westerfield became a prime suspect early on, in part because he took a trip to the desert the day after Danielle vanished and cleaned his motor home upon returning.
By Leonard Novarro