Am I Right?!
FREE THE WESTERFIELD 12
Sunday I realized I had become a Westerfield trialaholic when I body blocked my son
at the refrigerator, “May I remind you, you're under the admonition of this house not to
sample the guacamole, nor to form an opinion about the guacamole or express any opinion
about that guacamole until the company gets here!”
Before I get funny, let me say for the record, the murder of little Danielle van Dam was
truly tragic. Every time I saw her mother cry on TV, I cried. Every time.
The Westerfield case isn't my first high profile murder trial. I wrote and produced the sit-
com “My Sister Sam,” which starred Pam Dawber and 21-year-old newcomer, Rebecca
Schaeffer. July 18, 1989, Rebecca was stalked and murdered by an obsessed fan, Robert
Bardo. Thus began my friendship with Rebecca’s parents, which led to my attending her
killer's trial with them every day. Marcia Clark happened to be the prosecuting attorney.
Bardo’s trial was one of the very first broadcasts on the then-fledgling Court TV. What I
learned from that experience is -- there's no way to be involved with a newsworthy case during
the day and not be extremely curious about how the media reports that case that night.
HOW TO BE A GOOD JUROR
On Day One, the Westerfield judge claimed he was reluctant to do it, but he decided to
give We The People what we wanted and by allowing the dastardly cameras into his
courtroom. But he warned all future Johnny Cochrans and/or Kato Kaelins they were
“forbidden from selling your book or movie about this trial until sixty days after the case is
concluded.” Translation: Everyone involved, even a man named Mudd, was going to get his
fifteen minutes of fame and the promise of a brighter future that only fame could bring.
Judge Mudd, who has a folksy style, then instructed the non-sequestered jury – “Pay no
attention to the media coverage of this case. Instead of watching TV, read a book . . . if you
remember how! If you must watch TV, watch nature shows or worse, a Padres game. Don't
read the newspapers, nor surf the Internet. Don’t listen to talk radio.
On the weekend, if you're lucky enough to be sunning yourself at one of our beautiful San
Diego beaches, and the Goodyear blimp flies over with news of this trial printing out in little red
lights on the side, immediately stick your head in the sand or dive under the waves and stay
there! Do not discuss the case with your friends, your family, your priest, your dog, and
especially not your fellow jurors. If you overhear someone mention the word ‘Westerfield,’
immediately clap your hands tightly over your ears and begin clucking loudly with your tongue --
like those toothless old ladies who wear black headscarves.
Even in the privacy of your own mind, don't speculate about the case. Don’t form any
opinion! Don’t start forming an opinion until I tell you that it's time to Start Forming Your
Opinion. If an opinion accidentally starts to form into your mind, like, Maybe Westerfield didn't
do it, slap yourself silly and hum Kumba Ya over and over till your mind is once again blank!”
TRANSLATION: the jury should be the only people in all of San Diego, or the country for that
matter, NOT watching the coverage of the case or speculating about the David Westerfield
Like most normal people, my day starts with Katie Couric and ends with Jay Leno. I've
been watching continuous news coverage continuously ever since the Gulf War. And during
the commercials I check the web for news.
If I'm separated from continuous news coverage for more than 12 minutes, I break out in
hives. Normally, by the time Tom Brokow reports a new suicide bombing in Israel, I'm heckling
the set, “Tom, that headline is soo an hour ago!”
MY PLAN TO REVAMP THE JURY SYSTEM
GET REAL! Flip the whole antiquated fake See no media, Speak no media, Hear no media
thing on it ear. The jury is representative of The People; why shouldn't they be allowed to act
· Starting at noon on Day One of the testimony, my Jurors would convene to a private
conference room where they'd be served a lovely lunch and immediately begin discussing the
day's testimony over tuna sandwiches, just like the rest of us.
· My jury would operate more like a college study group, eventually becoming experts on the
case, just like me!
· My jurors would be free to form an opinion and then change that opinion from day to day as
the evidence is presented and challenged, just like the rest of us.
· My Jury room would be filled with the all latest newspapers and magazine containing articles
on the case. Reading would be encouraged.
· A web connected-computer with big screen projection would allow jurors to surf the Union
Tribune or Court TV’s Calif. v. Westerfield web sites, view timelines, or replay videos of
· Written transcriptions would only be used as an adjunct to video playbacks of testimony; so
the Jury can look the witness in the eye (a time-tested method of detecting falsehood).
PAY NO ATTENTION TO REALLY SIMILAR CHILD ABDUCTION CASES
I know Judge Mudd gave the Jury strict instructions not to compare Danielle's murder to
the very similar crime that just took place in Orange County. But flipping between “Arctic Sea
Otters” and “Antiques Roadshow,” what if a juror accidentally clicked past what they thought
was a video of Danielle van Dam’s recovery sight, which turned out to be Samantha Runnion’s
As long as the cat's out of the bag, I was just wondering if the DA could humor me just for a
second. I cant be the only San Diegan who's thinking as long as we've got all our DNA and
they've got all Alejandro Avila’s DNA, how much trouble would it be to rule Avila out as the
killer of Danielle? Is the DA afraid ordering that comparison test would send a message to the
citizens of San Diego that says “We're not positive Westerfield did it”? I just want to feel
better. Do you think the DA would grant me this wish even though the scenario is far-
fetched? Hey the Westerfield scenario is far-fetched too!
In the middle of my gavel-to-gavel Westerfield watching I got a summons to report for Jury
Duty at the San Diego Courthouse. During my pre-juror interview I plan to ask them: Has any
juror ever burst from the stress of keeping her mouth shut about the case or gone insane
from complete instant media withdrawal? Has the Court ever considered that these restrictions
on normal life might constitute cruel and unusual punishment?
Even if you don't OWN a TV, there are now TV screens on billboards, gas pumps and
better pay toilets everywhere! So unless you're sequestered, bound, and gagged in some
Tibetan monastery, you cannot avoid the media! If now, after eight weeks, those Westerfield
jurors are truly still media virgins -- they ought to elevated to sainthood!
Ms. Miller is an Emmy-winning writer-producer.
August 7, 2002
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