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Defense blasts Van Dam's lurid lifestyle

SAN DIEGO, June 4 (UPI) -- The murder trial of David Westerfield opened Tuesday with a San Diego prosecutor meticulously describing DNA evidence he said placed 7-year-old Danielle van Dam in Westerfield's motor home, and the defense zeroing in on the reputed promiscuity and evasiveness of Danielle's parents.

In opening statements in San Diego County Superior Court, defense attorney Stephen Feldman accused Damon and Brenda van Dam of not telling police that they had held an impromptu, sexually charged, after-hours party at their home after Mrs. Van Dam and two of her girlfriends closed down a nearby bar while under the influence of marijuana and alcohol and returned with two male patrons.

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"This was the girls' night out to party ... and the girls were getting down ... they were rockin,'" Feldman told the enraptured jury of six men and six women.

Feldman, in a booming and excited voice, painted for the jury a lifestyle of pot-smoking, drinking and bi-sexual behavior on the part of the Van Dams.

"It took six interviews to get to the bottom of the Van Dam's story," said Feldman. "Why?"

Feldman is expected to use the Van Dam's lifestyle as a means of shifting the jury's focus from his client to the possibility that it was the Van Dams who unwittingly allowed the kidnapper into their home.

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Danielle vanished sometime on the night of Feb. 1-2 and was found dead Feb. 27 along a rural road near El Cajon, about 30 miles from the Sabre Springs subdivision where the Van Dams and Westerfield lived two doors apart.

Westerfield faces charges of kidnapping and murder that could land him on death row if he is convicted. He is also charged with possession of child pornography, which prosecutors believe points to a motive for the horrendous crime.

Feldman, however, admitted to the jury that there were pornographic images on his client's computer, and said they were of "adult large-breasted women."

The 50-year-old divorcé allegedly slipped into the Van Dam's suburban home and carried Danielle off, vanishing with her in his motor home on Saturday morning at about the time the Van Dams were becoming aware that their daughter was not sleeping in, but in fact, had disappeared.

In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek told the jury that there was ample physical evidence that proved Danielle had been inside Westerfield's motor home, including fingerprints, blood and long blond hair samples that were positively matched to the little girl through DNA testing.

Dusek said hairs found in the vehicle's sink and carpeting were tested and found to "either come from Brenda or one of her three kids" with an infinitesimal chance the samples came from someone outside the family.

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He noted that the hairs were too short to be from either of the Van Dam's two sons and were not "chemically treated" like Mrs. Van Dam's faux blond locks.

"Someone was able to get into the house, and someone was able to carry her out of the house," Dusek said.

Feldman, however, argued that there was no evidence linking Westerfield to the crime. He said it would have been impossible for someone who had never been inside the Van Dam home, like Westerfield, to find his way inside, past the family dog and into the correct bedroom in the dark.

There was also, he said, no evidence of sexual assault on Danielle's decomposed remains and no cause of death had been confirmed.

Feldman also tantalized the jurors by telling them he would prove that there was no way that Westerfield could have dumped the body, and reminded them that Westerfield was under 24-hour surveillance by police and the news media starting a few days after Danielle disappeared.

His most concerted efforts, however, were aimed at Damon and Brenda van Dam.

In occasionally animated fashion, Feldman accused the Van Dams of being concerned with getting their story straight about the events of that night as they waited for police to respond to the call they placed to 911 after they discovered that Danielle was missing.

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He alleged that the couple decided not to tell police that they had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night before, and that they had also had Brenda's drinking buddies in the house until after 3 a.m.

While they were at Dad's Restaurant on Friday night, Brenda van Dam and her two friends had danced and played pool with a number of male patrons, including Westerfield, who left the bar before the women.

"The women were dancing with each other and with other men in a manner designed to entice other men to come to the Van Dam residence that evening," Feldman stated.

The events of the night, which spilled into the early hours of Saturday, were apparently not something the Van Dams felt police should know, Feldman said, and was withheld by the couple during the initial investigation.

Police, the lawyer said, would not have even known about the extra people in the house had they noted spoken to Barbara Easton, one of Brenda's friends who had accompanied her to Dad's the night before.

"Barbara apparently hadn't sobered up enough to withhold the information about her relationship with the Van Dams," Feldman said. "She told the truth. She said, 'This is what happened that night. We were smoking dope. We were in bed together. We were hugging and kissing. This is what happened in the bar.'"

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After the opening statements, the volunteer searchers testified about finding the decomposing body of Danielle.

"The body was laying down on her back with her head facing right," milkman Karsten Heinburger testified, "A portion (of the body) was missing; I thought the body was burned because I didn't know what a decomposing body looked like."

Heinburger said he recognized the shimmering of her earring in the hot sun.

Another volunteer, Chris Morgan, said he recognized that the body was that of Danielle.

"The teeth structure looked a lot like the gap in the photos of her," he said.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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