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Van Dam Family Holds Press Conference

Aired September 17, 2002 - 12:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Any moment now, the parents of Danielle van Dam are expected to share their thoughts on the trial of their former neighbor, David Westerfield. Last month, a San Diego jury convicted him of kidnapping and killing Danielle, and yesterday afternoon, those same jurors announced that they had reached another decision on whether Westerfield should live or die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury, in the above and title (ph) cause determine that the penalty shall be death. Dated September 16, 2002. Signed juror number 10, foreperson.


PHILLIPS: The van Dams are holding their new conference in La Jolla -- or their news conference, rather in La Jolla, near their daughter's favorite beach.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is also there -- hi, Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kyra. Well, we are just getting word that Brenda and Damon van Dam are arriving here at the La Jolla Shores beach, which was Danielle's favorite beach. It was also the location of a memorial service that was held for her back in March.

And this is the first time, Kyra, as you know that the van Dams will be able to speak out since the trial began because there was a gag order in place. This is the first time we are going to hear their reaction to the jury's recommendation of the death penalty for the man who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering their 7-year-old daughter Danielle.

We understand that the van Dams are just pulling up right now. They are walking up to this area. Right behind me, they will be addressing the media for the first time -- back to you, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: ... Gutierrez, you definitely are going to want to go talk to them, so we will let you go. We will come back and check in with you as this continues.

We are going to get back to the death penalty verdict in just a moment. Right after it was announced, one of the jurors had to leave the courtroom to compose herself. The jury foreman said it was one of the most difficult decisions any of them have ever made. Even at one point, it appeared that they would not be able to reach a unanimous recommendation. He said the decision came when jurors refocused on the physical evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We tried to sort of fathom what exactly happened, in terms of did he enter the house, did he take her from there -- but that -- yes, when it came down to it, we really just needed to place her in his environment, and we didn't necessarily have to fill in all the gaps of the story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never thought I would have to make this decision, so I didn't take it lightly, and I don't think anybody in there did.


PHILLIPS: Westerfield is to be sentenced November 22. The judge can either accept the jury's recommendation, or give him life in prison without parole.

Now as we told you just moments ago, Thelma Gutierrez let us know that Brenda and Damon van Dam were arriving there, in La Jolla, their daughter's favorite beach. They are getting ready to hold a news conference and talk about the fact that the jury not only convicted David Westerfield of kidnapping and killing Danielle, but yesterday afternoon, those same jurors announced that they had reached another decision, and whether Westerfield should live or die. You are looking at a live picture right now in La Jolla. That is an area just outside of San Diego, and it looks like Brenda van Dam is about to step up to the microphone, along with her husband Damon as they address reporters about how they feel about the decision that was reached yesterday -- let's go ahead and listen in.

Once again, if are you just tuning in, you are looking at a live picture from La Jolla, California, that is just outside San Diego proper...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We are going to just go in just a couple minutes. I wanted to tell you that have a couple of new photos. Anybody who wants to zoom in close on them, just come over and find me afterwards. The van Dams are going...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you stand up closer -- we are live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The van Dams are going to read a brief statement and then they are going to take some limited Q and A, and then they are going to take off. So, thank you, everybody for coming.

BRENDA VAN DAM, MOTHER OF DANIELLE VAN DAM: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak about Danielle today. We delayed making a public statement because we wanted to put yesterday behind us, and start a new day at one of Danielle's favorite places. She loved this beach at La Jolla Shores. We spent a lot of time here as a family. So, on this day, we remember Danielle fondly in her happy place.

Our message today is one of gratitude. First, we are grateful to the men and women of the jury. We have great respect for you, your dedication, your endurance, and for this service you have provided to our community. The evidence and images you were subjected to must have been heart-wrenching. You had an incredibly difficult job, and we thank you for doing it so well. The only way that we could possibly give back to you is to ask our angel Danielle to watch over you and your families. We don't know what power she has with her new little wings, but we know that she will take special care of you.

We would also like to thank our community, which has set an example for all others on how to treasure and find a missing child. This is an important part of Danielle's legacy, that by working together, as one child-centered community, we can prevail over predators, and in my eyes, love has conquered evil.

We are also grateful to our family and friends, and our loyal support team. Without the love and support you all have given us, we do not think we could have made it this far. We were relieved and happy with the guilty verdict. We feel that the justice system successfully revealed the truth, and that Danielle's murderer has been held accountable.

That was our hope, that Danielle's death would not go unanswered. As far as the sentencing decision, we were prepared to accept either decision -- because what mattered most is knowing that this monster could never again hurt another child.

Our precious Danielle was taken from our family lives, but she still lives on with us in our memories and our hearts, and judging by the thousands of letters, cards and e-mails we have received, we are sure that she will remain in the hearts of many others as well -- do you want to read the rest?




From the moment she was missing, we were determined that she would not become another unknown missing child. We begged anyone who would listen to help us spread the word and her picture across the country. We did this only so we could find our precious daughter. We did not know the impact her story would have. The fact that Danielle's senseless murder has opened the hearts and eyes of so many people has moved us.

We hope this awareness will lead to a greater appreciation of each and every child, and that we will band together as one large family, looking out for children across our country -- thank you.

QUESTION: Brenda, if you could say one thing to David Westerfield right now, what would it be?

B. VAN DAM: I would ask him why.

QUESTION: What do you think he would tell you? B. VAN DAM: I don't think I would want him to tell me anything, I don't think I want to hear his voice.

QUESTION: Brenda, there was a story in the paper today, I know it is a very sensitive subject, that indicates that the district attorney was ready to strike a deal, that the defense and the district attorney were ready, and then that is the day that your daughter's body was found. Can you comment on that, and were you involved in that, were you in any way knowledgeable that that was going to happen?

B. VAN DAM: I knew nothing about that, I don't know if that is even true.

D. VAN DAM: We had no idea, and just because it is in the paper, as you all know, doesn't mean it is true.


D. VAN DAM: ... we don't know. We never even thought of going down that path because it didn't happen. I can say I think we are glad that our volunteers -- and I think we didn't add that specifically, a special thank you to the volunteers who found Danielle, those are the people that gave of themselves for just for the reasons of good, and we are very glad that they are the ones that found her.

QUESTION: Brenda, you were going to say something about that. Would you have accepted such an offer if it had been made to you?

B. VAN DAM: I don't know. I never took it into consideration. It was never presented to me.

QUESTION: Brenda, could you walk us through your reaction to the courtroom yesterday when you hit (ph) the verdict, because I know it is very emotional. What happened? I mean what ran through your mine when that was read?

B. VAN DAM: As I said, I was ready to accept either outcome because what mattered most to me, was that he could never hurt another child. But I do feel that the guilty verdict was the right verdict for this case, and I think that it was horrendous what has happened to my daughter, and I feel that it was the proper punishment.

QUESTION: What was it like to sit across from David Westerfield in that courtroom?

B. VAN DAM: It was very difficult to control myself, I must say. I was in there every day for Danielle. Let me tell you, if Danielle was old enough and something like this had happened to me, she would be in there every single day for me, or for Damon, or for one of her brothers. I was there every day for my daughter, who I love dearly and I miss dearly.

QUESTION: The defense made a strong point frankly attacking your lifestyle, the family. Can you tell us if this was difficult for you to listen to, because yesterday the jurors said they found it irrelevant to the entire case. How does it make you feel to listen to that?

B. VAN DAM: It was difficult to actually answer all of those questions, but we knew in our hearts that it was irrelevant to the case, and we knew that the right thing to do was to get it out there, and get past it so they could see what was really -- what the case was really made of, and that was all of the evidence.

QUESTION: ... know what really happened, the details of what happened and having Westerfield never having said exactly what he did, and how he did her and no remorse?

B. VAN DAM: That's one the questions -- if I ever have one question answered, it would be how he did it?

QUESTION: It seemed at the time of the trial of the trial, during various stages, and even the prosecution mentioned it, were forgetting the site of what this was all about. This was about a little girl, your daughter, Danielle. Did you feel that for a while that that was getting totally lost in the light of the questions that were being asked, and what happened to your husband...

B. VAN DAM: I did feel that Danielle get lost in the midst of it, but I think that in the closing arguments, Jeff was overwhelming, and I think he brought that all back into perspective, and he let the jurors know what this was about, and this was about Danielle.

D. VAN DAM: As a matter of fact, when I was banned from the courtroom, Brenda kept going, it was hard to go alone, but she kept continued to want to go alone in order to be there for Danielle so there would be some focus on Danielle, at least in the jury's eyes.

QUESTION: There was a point where you could have jeopardized the trial by some of your actions the judge pointed out, and they banned you from the courtroom and allowed you back in. Talk about and your motivation, why you went through that. We understand your feelings. but...

D. VAN DAM: What was reported in the case of me being banned, again, has been blown out of proportion and is not really true. I think the bailiffs, the way the bailiffs are trained, the way the bailiffs live their lives, they would kill someone like that, and that's not in my nature, and I think the bailiffs read that into my nature, because that's the only reference that they have.

I did nothing other than let him know that I was there, and I had no other plan other than to let him know that I was there, but apparently, the bailiffs think there was more to it than that, and the judge's only reference to what was happening was what the bailiff's told him. I couldn't talk to him. So I think that the judge did what told by the bailiffs.

QUESTION: ... when at first it looked like there may be a hung jury, and it just kind of -- there was these notes coming out. What was that whole roller coaster like for you?

B. VAN DAM: That was pretty wild. When we got down there, we thought it was a hung jury.

D. VAN DAM: It was interesting, but beyond that, like Brenda said, the outcome really wasn't that important, because he can't get out, no matter what, so.

QUESTION: When the execution day comes, what are your guys' plans.

B. VAN DAM: I don't think I can be there?

D. VAN DAM: I don't know at this point.

And that's going to be all.

Thank you.

PHILLIPS: You have been listening to the parents of Danielle Van Dam as they shared their thoughts on the trial of their former neighbor, David Westerfield, as you know, San Diego jury convicted him of kidnapping and killing little Danielle, and as of yesterday afternoon, the same jurors announced another that they had reached another decision, and that was that Westerfield will die for his crime.

Brenda Van Dam, talking about Danielle's legacy, that it was proof that by this community coming together, that she felt that prevailed over predators and that love has conquered evil in this case. As for whether they will be there on execution day, Brenda Van Dam coming out, saying she doesn't think that she could be there. However, Damon Van Dam saying he's not quite sure, waiting for that day to come.


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