SAN DIEGO – David Westerfield, the 50-year-old San Diego man convicted of kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, begins his effort next Wednesday to avoid a trip to death row.
The jury reached its verdict after 10 days of deliberations and will now decide whether to impose the death penalty. The judge ordered the six men and six women to return to court next Wednesday to begin the penalty phase.
Dressed in a gray suit and tie, Westerfield sat without expression in the courtroom, his eyes panning the jurors, as the judge polled them individually to confirm their verdict.
One juror appeared to wipe away tears. None of the jurors looked at the defendant, who was also found guilty of possessing child pornography.
Danielle's mother, Brenda van Dam, burst into tears and hugged her husband Damon as they watched from the back row of the courtroom. They remained under a gag order.
Westerfield's supporters were stunned.
"I am in shock. I am just in shock," said David Neal, the killer's former brother-in-law. "He thought he was going to get off."
The jurors agreed with the prosecution's argument that Westerfield, a divorced, self-employed engineer, sneaked into his neighbor's bedroom in the middle of the night on Feb. 1 and abducted her while her father was sleeping. The girl's nude body was found Feb. 27 along a rural road east of San Diego.
Prosecutors said drops of the girl's blood on Westerfield's jacket were a DNA-backed "smoking gun" that jurors couldn't ignore.
Westerfield's defense lawyers argued that the swinging lifestyle of Danielle's parents put her at risk, and that someone else had committed the crime.
Danielle was last seen Feb. 1, when her father put her to bed. Her nude body was found nearly a month later along a road outside the city, too decomposed to determine the cause of death or whether Danielle had been sexually assaulted.
Westerfield was placed under surveillance early in the investigation after authorities learned he was at the same bar as Danielle's mother and two of her girlfriends the night the girl vanished. He left on a long, meandering trip in his motor home early the next day as police and volunteers searched the neighborhood.
He later retraced his RV trip with police and made the unsolicited comment that "this would be a great place to dump a body," according to court documents.
The girl's blood was later found on one of Westerfield's jackets and her hair inside his home. Investigators said Danielle's blood, hair and fingerprints were also discovered inside the motor home.
The defense said there was no motive and suggested it was improbable that the 6-foot-2 suspect could have slipped into the girl's home in the dark and snatched her away without leaving evidence of his presence.
Defense lawyer Steven Feldman also noted that Danielle and her mother had once been in Westerfield's home for about 15 minutes as the girl sold him Girl Scout cookies, suggesting that's why her hair was found inside.
Feldman repeatedly suggested that someone else was the killer, noting that a fingerprint found in the Van Dam home and a hair found on the girl were never identified.
The case captivated much of San Diego, with local television and radio stations broadcasting gavel-to-gavel coverage and talk-radio programs delving into the details.
Feldman argued that the lifestyle of Danielle's parents, which included marijuana use and spouse-swapping, exposed their home to people who might have been responsible for the girl's disappearance.
Damon van Dam, 36, testified that he kissed and "snuggled" in bed with one of his wife's friends the night his daughter disappeared. He also said he and his wife smoked marijuana with her friends earlier in the evening.
Other witnesses said they saw Brenda van Dam and Westerfield "dirty dancing" and being "huggy huggy" at the bar that night. One said van Dam rubbed her hips and bosom against Westerfield as he giggled. Brenda van Dam denied she danced with him.
The van Dams said their lifestyle had nothing to do with their daughter's abduction and slaying. Brenda van Dam wept as she testified, and both she and her husband sometimes gazed downward when their lifestyle was brought up during the rest of the trial.
Prosecutors also called experts who described the DNA link between Danielle and the blood on Westerfield's jacket. One said the odds that another person would have the same DNA were at least 1 in 130 quadrillion.
Julie Mills, a clerk at a dry cleaner, also testified that Westerfield came to the store two days after Danielle vanished, arriving in his motor home to drop off the bloodstained jacket, two comforters and two pillow covers.
She said it seemed odd that -- on a cold morning -- he was barefoot and wearing only a T-shirt and shorts. Detectives later came to the dry cleaner and confiscated the items for testing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.