About 6:30 in the morning of July 4, 2008, David James “D.J.” Bell took his neighbors’ children, ages 2 and 4, into his South Salt Lake home. The neighbors were having an all night party and the children were wandering about unattended.
When Lulu Latu finally noticed her kids were missing, she went to Bell’s home. Finding the kids there, she become hysterical, screaming and slapping Bell. Minutes after she returned to her drinkfest, her fellow partiers broke down Bell’s door and assaulted Bell and Daniel Fair, his partner. (Salt Lake Tribune)
Bell was dragged from his home by his then-shoulder length hair and his head was repeatedly smashed against the pavement, [defense attorney Susanne] Gustin said. Blood was oozing from his right ear and he still suffers hearing loss, she said.
Someone used a piece of broken glass to cut Bell’s throat, chest and one of his toes.
Bell’s partner, Fair, also was beaten, and a large TV was thrown onto his head.
The District Attorney opted not to bring any assault charges in the case but instead charged Bell with kidnapping. Defense argued that this was an anti-gay hate crime and that had any other neighbor taken the children in they would have been thanked instead of beaten. (SLT)
[Defense attorney Roger] Kraft accused police of conducting a shoddy investigation, noting that 10 people who attended Latu’s party were never interviewed. Neither were four people at Bell’s home, even though they wanted to talk and provided police with their contact information.
Juror Jorgensen agreed that if the police investigation had been “handled properly, [they] would have come to a different conclusion on that day.”
In cases like these, it can be difficult to know whether there were extenuating circumstances, whether Lulu had reason to fear for her children’s safety with Bell, whether other neighborhood history was involved. Although I was tempted to see this as yet another illustration of how police assume that gay men are guilty until proven innocent in Utah, I hesitated at that time to form judgment.
But it seems the jury had far less difficulty, After acquitting Bell, the jurors told the Tribune that they were appalled at the lack of evidence and the waste in pressing charges.
Perhaps, after being rebuked by the jury, the district attorney may be willing to possibly consider caring whether it’s free-beating season on gay men in Salt Lake County.