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Appeals court orders documents released in Westerfield murder trial

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Appeals court orders documents released in Westerfield murder trial

  • Following motions by media groups, an appellate judge ordered the release of transcripts and other documents from the trial of David Westerfield, who was convicted of killing a young girl.

Jan. 17, 2003 — An appellate judge in San Diego last week ordered the release of thousands of pages of documents sealed during the trial of David Westerfield, the man convicted of killing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

Some 1,200 pages of documents were subsequently released Jan. 9 and Jan. 13, following the appeal by the Society of Professional Journalists and The San Diego Union-Tribune, which, along with several other media organizations, sought access to the information throughout the case.

Superior Court Judge William Mudd initially refused release the documents, saying it would compromise the defendant’s right to a fair trial, but the Court of Appeals in San Diego ruled that Mudd must release the information.

The material released ranged from transcripts of closed-door court hearings to motions regarding potential evidence. Also included was the transcript from an interrogation of Westerfield by police officers who later were accused of misconduct and which was not admitted in court.

“I think it’s just important for the public to see the entire trial and how decisions are made,” said media attorney Guylin Cummins.

The district attorney was running for office and because of problems with another murder trial, the public understandably was critical of the prosecution, Cummins noted.

“Anytime the public is footing the bill, there’s an issue of public importance,” Cummins said.

The media organizations did not get all the materials they requested. The judge denied release of information about the cost to taxpayers of proceedings as well as transcripts of bench conferences and side conferences.

(State v. Westerfield; Media Counsel: Guylyn Cummins, Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP, San Diego) JL

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