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Evidence Laid Out in Van Dam Murder

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A divorced engineer went on trial for allegedly kidnapping and murdering a 7-year-old girl whose case drew national attention when she vanished in the middle of the night earlier this year.

David Westerfield, 50, is accused of snatching Danielle van Dam in February from her home two doors down from his and dumping her body east of San Diego. He could get the death penalty if convicted.

As Westerfield's trial began Tuesday, both sides predicted that forensic evidence will prove their case.

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek told jurors during his opening statement that investigators found Danielle's hair and carpet fibers from her home in Westerfield's house and 35-foot motor home.

Danielle was discovered missing the morning of Feb. 2, when her parents went to her room to wake her. An intense search of the region surrounding their suburban home ended Feb. 27 with the discovery of her nude body along a rural road east of San Diego.

The cause of Danielle's death could not be determined, but prosecutors speculated she was suffocated.

"Somebody dumped her body like trash," Dusek said. "The evidence will show you who that is."

Defense attorney Steven Feldman said the evidence would vindicate his client.

"The science is going to come to Mr. Westerfield's rescue," Feldman said in his opening statement. "It was impossible -- impossible -- for David Westerfield to have dumped Danielle van Dam in that location."

He also sought to discredit the girl's parents, Damon and Brenda van Dam, by noting that they initially did not tell police they had smoked marijuana the night of their daughter's disappearance and did not disclose other potentially embarrassing details about their lifestyle.

The trial was expected to resume Wednesday.

At the start of the trial, Danielle's parents attempted to enter the courtroom but were barred by authorities because they have been called as witnesses. A family spokeswoman, Sara Muller Fraunces, said it was "excruciating" for the parents to be kept out.

"They want to be in there to represent Danielle as only her parents can," she said.

When jurors left for lunch, Judge William Mudd told friends of the van Dams to remove buttons they wore bearing the girl's picture to avoid influencing the jury.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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