Sins of the Father

David Westerfield’s kids want privacy

David Westerfield. His son, 19-year-old Neal Westerfield, filed a petition for change of name with San Diego Superior Court. His sister, Lisa Lynn, who will turn 22 on April 10, filed the same request one week later.
  • David Westerfield. His son, 19-year-old Neal Westerfield, filed a petition for change of name with San Diego Superior Court. His sister, Lisa Lynn, who will turn 22 on April 10, filed the same request one week later.
  • Image by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.

Early in his murder trial, David Westerfield received a vote of confidence from his former brother-in-law Johnny Neal, who said he was sure that the accused was innocent. The following day, June 12, 2002, Alex Roth of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on a response to this opinion he had obtained by phone from Neal Westerfield, son of the man eventually convicted of Danielle van Dam's murder. According to Roth, Neal Westerfield, speaking for the defendant's two children, said, "I agree with him totally about that.... We're all very supportive of [my father], and we all believe he's innocent." The statement was the last that anyone from the immediate family would give to the press. In response to an inquiry last week about the effect of their father's conviction on the family, Westerfield's daughter hung up the phone.

The Westerfield trial ended on September 16, 2002. On January 16, 2003, 19-year-old Neal Westerfield filed a petition for change of name with San Diego Superior Court. His sister, Lisa Lynn, who will turn 22 on April 10, filed the same request one week later. As a condition of granting changes of name, the court requires petitioners to publish their intentions in a regional "newspaper of general circulation" for four consecutive weeks prior to the hearing. Lisa Lynn and David Neal Westerfield published their "Order to Show Cause for Change of Name" in the Julian News on the dates of February 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2003.

The identical weekly notices in the Julian News stated, "It is ordered that all persons interested in this matter appear before this Court in Department 25 of the San Diego County Superior Court ... and show, if any they have, why the application for change of name should not be granted." The paper announced the date and time of the hearing as March 12, 2003, at 8:30 a.m.

Had potential objectors to the name change -- if one can imagine any -- arrived at the hearing ten minutes early, they would have seen the Westerfield children and a woman who appeared to be their mother come out of the locked courtroom and hurry away down the third-floor courthouse corridor. According to court records of the two cases, Judge Lisa Foster granted Neal and Lisa their requests "prior to calendar call." In the boxes reserved for the name of the court reporter, the words "not reported" were entered. The file of each petition also contained a receipt of $227.50 paid to the court.

In her dodge of public attention, Judge Foster continued in the court's tradition of assiduous protection of the Westerfield children's privacy. During midday recess on the first day that Neal Westerfield testified at his father's trial, according to court transcripts, Judge William Mudd threw a bit of a tantrum. "I am venting. I admit it," he said. "Not since this case was assigned to me on the first day, when I described a tsunami of people rushing to this courtroom, have I seen a feeding frenzy by the media as I have this noon hour in their efforts to photograph Neal Westerfield. It is absolutely appalling to this court.... The scuffling, the stakeouts, if you will, remind me of paparazzi for some important movie star."

That day, July 23, Neal Westerfield was testifying for the prosecution against his father. But one might also characterize his appearance on the witness stand as a personal self-defense, though he was not being charged with anything. Two weeks earlier, according to newspaper accounts, computer forensic expert Marcus Lawson testified that the son and not his father might have been the one who downloaded pornographic images onto their home computers. In addition to murder, the prosecution had charged David Westerfield with misdemeanor possession of child pornography. But Neal insisted that any images he himself downloaded were limited to big-breasted women and Japanese animations. Prosecutor Jeff Dusek suggested to him on the stand that, outside of court, defense attorney Steven Feldman had tried to pressure Neal into admitting that he downloaded the child porn. Neal agreed that Feldman did so and expressed resentment toward his father's defender for the pressure. Feldman did not cross-examine the young Westerfield's testimony.

The following day, Court TV's Harriet Ryan wrote that when his son took the stand, the usually stoic Westerfield's "body began to shake in an even more pronounced manner than it has at other points during the trial. Neal Westerfield did not look in his father's direction during the testimony."

During his appearance on the stand, Neal Westerfield also called into question the backroads route his father had told police that he normally took to drive to the desert. Although not recalling the highway by name, the son admitted that, from his recollection of trips he made to the desert with his father, the highway they took must have been Interstate 8.

When Johnny Neal had expressed confidence in David Westerfield's innocence earlier in the trial, he explained that the defendant had always shown an interest in adult women, not in young girls. The Westerfields and Neals had taken their families on trips and vacations together, he said, and never had David Westerfield displayed any inappropriate attention to the children. Johnny Neal and his wife have a son and a daughter close in age to the Westerfield children.

But on August 26, during the penalty phase of the trial, Westerfield's niece, going by Jenny N. to protect her privacy, gave damaging testimony. At seven years old, the age of Danielle van Dam when she was killed, Jenny had been sleeping in an upstairs room with her sister and her cousin Lisa when Westerfield came in, put his finger in her mouth, and "was kinda playing with [her] teeth." He left her momentarily but came back and began doing it again, at which time, testified Jenny, she bit his finger as hard as she could. After that, he left the room, but not until he had "readjusted" his running shorts.

Jenny said that she was a reluctant witness and that she had a close relationship with Westerfield's two children, Neal and Lisa. Court TV reported the next day that she "was shaking as she walked to the witness chair."

Following her to the witness stand, Jenny's mother Jeanne N. testified that her daughter had come downstairs to report her uncle's behavior on the night of the incident. Jeanne N. said that she then confronted Westerfield about the incident but that she found his explanation reasonable he had gone into the girls' room to comfort Jenny, who had been "fussing in her sleep."

David Westerfield himself had alerted police to the incident when they asked, in their initial interviews with him, whether anyone might suspect him of child molestation. Jenny's mom "felt that I had molested her children," he was heard on tape in court telling police. "I felt really bad about that."

Using an "Opposition Notice" released by the court only after the trial was over, however, defense attorney Steven Feldman, on August 20, had tried to have Jenny N.'s testimony squelched on the grounds that Westerfield had never been charged with a crime for the behavior she described. Also, he had noted in that document that Jenny N. had given two different versions of the event. When first contacted by police on February 4, she said it happened in her room at home and that only her sister was present. But in another interview on July 26, she told police that it occurred upstairs at the Westerfield home and that the defendant's daughter was in the room too.

Neal Westerfield also testified in the penalty phase of the trial -- but this time on behalf of his father. He said his father taught him the value of respecting people and characterized his relationship with him as a good one. He said the thing he most remembered about his father was playing chess with him by the pool in their back yard. During the first testimony he gave in the trial, he had also described many excursions he and his father had taken together to the beach and desert.

In cross-examination, prosecutor Dusek tried to get young Westerfield to comment on the way Feldman had used an attempt to pin the child porn on him as a defense strategy for his father. But Judge Mudd would not allow the line of questioning to proceed after an objection by the defense.

As the prosecution hammered away at the defendant as a monster who deserved to die, Lisa Westerfield, for the first time in the trial, also testified on behalf of her father. She answered "yes" to Feldman's questions whether she still loved and missed him. In a story on the following day, September 4, Court TV reported that not only did Lisa have tears in her eyes and her voice crack, but that, as she testified, Westerfield himself "looked stricken and rubbed tears from his eyes." She finished her testimony by showing "jurors snapshots of the family in happier times" and describing her father taking her to the park, where he would "hit ground balls to us."

On the document required for changing their names, in the box called "Reason for Change," both Neal and Lisa entered "Disassociate from father's name." Yet in the choice of their new last name, they cling to a remnant of identification with their dad. Since March 12 of this year both have been going by the name of West.

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