Danielle's badly decomposed body was found nearly a month later after the parents had made numerous tear-filled appeals on TV for the return of their daughter.
The evidence piled up quickly against Westerfield. Danielle's fingerprints and hair were found in the RV that he took into the desert that weekend and her blood was found on a jacket he took to the dry cleaners that following Monday morning. The case appeared to be a slam-dunk, but when it finally went to the jury, the 12-member panel took nearly two excruciating weeks to reach a verdict. Now, they may top that in the penalty phase, and it's not because they really like the free food they get for lunch.
It's probably because of what the defense attorney latched onto during the trial, and that was the scandalous and shameful way Danielle Van Dam's parents conducted their lives. Apparently, on the night of the abduction, the girl's mother, Brenda Van Dam, had spent some time smoking dope with two female friends in a garage which had been specially fitted with locks to prevent kids from barging in and spying pothead mommy and her doper buddies.
After they had gotten high, they got into their cars and drove to a bar, where they reportedly drank heavily and tried to pick up men. They then drove back home where the girl's father, Damon Van Dam, had sex with both of the women in front of their spouses!
Ultimately, the defense attorney in the case was unsuccessful in his attempt to use the parents' behavior to mitigate his client's actions. But it must have struck a chord with at least one juror because the deliberations dragged on for a long time.
Columnists and TV talking heads jumped in, many arguing that the parents' "lifestyle" should have nothing to do with the case. Well, maybe it shouldn't and maybe it should. We can all agree that Danielle Van Dam didn't deserve to die that way. But neither should she have had to live that way.
It's most disheartening to realize that mine is the first generation in the history of mankind where parents, in large numbers, put themselves ahead of their children. This is a generation that has been coddled and pampered, by parents and technology, like none other before and yet many just want more, more, more. They cheat and they hedge and they rationalize their selfish behavior and when a child comes along, either as a convenience or a status symbol, they shirk their responsibility while spouting New Age bullshit phrases like "quality time" and "co-parenting."
This is indeed the Me Generation and shame on us all for allowing narcissism, pettiness and hedonism to rule the day. And it's not just the despicable Phoenix woman who smoked so much crack during her pregnancy and after the birth of her child that the kid's intestines literally dissolved, resulting in an unspeakably painful death.
We're talking about the dream American existence, the two-job, two-SUV couple living in the two-story house with the special garage, the one where Mommy can go get high. Shouldn't some sort of alarm have gone off in those people's heads as they transformed their garage into an impregnable drug den designed to keep out their own flesh and blood?
I'm not a big fan of the death penalty, but in the case of Mr. Westerfield, just give me the needle and point me toward the vein. He doesn't deserve to see another sunrise and neither should our world be polluted by the foul and fetid stench of his existence.
At the same time, I feel absolutely no sympathy for Damon and Brenda Van Dam, who are now free to carry on their swinging lifestyle unfettered by that former inconvenience who once occupied that pink-and-purple bedroom down the hall. It is a lifestyle they undoubtedly pursued with vigor and abandon before Danielle began her short and tragic time on this earth. And one they somehow failed to re-evaluate once they (or perhaps Brenda and one of her "friends") created that precious life.
Anti-abortion bumper stickers shout the phrase, "It's a child, not a choice!" But in this day and age of pharmaceutical wonders, it is a choice, one that should be made before the fact. If you're having just too damn much fun to change your "lifestyle," then don't have the kid in the first place. You want to keep on doing what you've been doing, knock yourself out. This is America and you can be as irresponsible and slutty as you want.
But when that kid makes an appearance, if you're not completely overwhelmed by the sense that here is a life of your own making, one totally dependent on you to build its foundation and show it the right path--through words, but mostly by example--please do the kid, yourselves and society a favor by dropping the child off in that basket at the local hospital. Then you can go back about your business of pleasing yourself every waking minute.
You know, maybe Westerfield did what he did because he wasn't invited to the party that night. Or maybe he was, but they were too busy to hear the doorbell ringing.