Tags: Danielle | Searchers | Find | Child's | Body

Danielle Searchers Find Child's Body

Wednesday, 27 February 2002 12:00 AM

It was not definitively known if the body found by a search party beneath an oak tree along a rural road in the suburb of El Cajon was that of the 7-year-old, who has been missing since Feb. 1. However, a police detective told reporters that no other children had been reported missing in the area and that the chances were good that Danielle had been found.

"There is a high probability," Lt. Jim Collins said as he and other officers waited for the arrival of crime scene technicians and the coroner's representative. "It is the body of a young child. We're not positive it was a female."

The area is under the jurisdiction of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Collins said sheriff's detectives would be involved in the processing of the crime scene in the event the body is not that of Danielle.

Danielle's parents, Damon and Brenda van Dam, were inside their home in Sabre Springs with a police captain and had not made any statement to the news crews that have been camped out in front of their home since the drama began, Los Angeles television station KCAL reported.

Collins said the grisly discovery was made in a small cluster of trees a short distance from along the side of Dehesa Road near a golf course in El Cajon, about 10 miles from Sabre Springs. A popular casino is located along the winding road that runs through a largely rural area dotted with fancy homes and golf courses.

One of the search teams that had been beating the bushes for more than three weeks came upon the remains during what Collins indicated was a routine search.

The discovery could prove damaging for David Westerfield, who was arrested last Friday and faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

San Diego County prosecutors had indicated they were willing to consider a plea bargain for Westerfield if he led them to Danielle's body.

Although no such deal has been yet proposed on the record, Deputy District Attorney George "Woody" Clark indicated on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday that there was still a chance Westerfield could avoid the death penalty by revealing where Danielle's body is located.

"I think that's something that anyone would consider," Clark said.

Danielle disappeared the night of Feb. 1 from her home in a suburban neighborhood two doors away from Westerfield's home. There has been no sign of her since. Westerfield was arrested Friday after DNA tests allegedly identified bloodstains on his clothing and in his motor home as coming from the girl.

Westerfield, 50, pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges of kidnapping, possession of child pornography and murder. The murder charge carries the "special circumstance" of allegedly being committed during the course of a kidnapping. A special circumstance allegation in California includes a possible death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Clark said it had not been decided whether the prosecution team would seek the death penalty. He also repeated that the district attorney's contention that they often successfully prosecute murder cases in which the victim's body has not been found, and that the DNA tests produced powerful evidence of Westerfield's guilt.

Search teams had combed the rural areas around Sabre Springs and the Imperial County desert where Westerfield had said he had gone camping in his motor home on the same day that Danielle was reported missing. Collins said the searchers were out on Dehesa Road as part of a routine expansion of their search.

In a related development, a judge Wednesday ordered the unsealing of search warrant affidavits and returns for Westerfield's home, sport utility vehicles and motor home. Repeated searches before Westerfield's arrest resulted in the seizure of items of evidence, the nature of which police have not revealed.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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It was not definitively known if the body found by a search party beneath an oak tree along a rural road in the suburb of El Cajon was that of the 7-year-old, who has been missing since Feb. 1. However, a police detective told reporters that no other children had been...
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2002-00-27
Wednesday, 27 February 2002 12:00 AM
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