Kidnap trial begins for gay man beaten when kids found in his home

South Salt Lake » Defense claims accused is a victim of hate crime.
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Lulu Latu paused several times to cry while testifying Tuesday about finding her missing 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old nephew at the South Salt Lake home of neighbor David James "DJ" Bell on July Fourth 2008.

Latu said the children were holding hands and crying in an upstairs bedroom, where Bell was telling them, "You guys are so beautiful."

Bell, 31, is on trial this week in 3rd District Court for two counts of child kidnapping, first-degree felonies punishable by 15 years to life, and one count of second-degree felony burglary.

Latu said she "went ballistic" at the sight of the frightened children with her next-door neighbor. She said she screamed and cursed at Bell and slapped him because she was so upset. She then picked up the children and told Bell he'd better, "lock his doors."

Minutes later, a number of the children's adult relatives broke down Bell's door and severely beat him and his gay partner, Dan Fair.

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin -- who has called the attack a hate crime -- told jurors, "Gay does matter in this case. It played a role in the conclusions people jumped to that morning."

But Latu insisted she harbored no bias against Fair. She said he was a welcome addition at the drinking party at her home that night, which continued until the children were discovered missing at about 6:30 a.m. She went to his home when she noticed he also was gone.

"We talked about having a barbecue," Latu said, noting that both she and her husband have relatives who are gay.

During his opening statement, prosecutor Tupakk Renteria urged jurors to stay focused on Bell's actions. "Don't let [the defense] confuse the assault with the kidnapping," Renteria said.

Renteria noted that Bell admitted during a police interview, "I took the children and I shouldn't have taken them."

But Gustin said Bell was suffering from "mild traumatic brain injury" due to the beating he had taken. She called his so-called police confession "nonsensical and unreliable."

Gustin promised jurors: "DJ will take the witness stand and tell you why the kids were at his home."

She claimed the children were in and out of Latu's home during the party and said the parents were guilty of child neglect. "No one was supervising these kids," Gustin told jurors.

She suggested that when Latu found her daughter and nephew missing, "she needed someone to blame" and picked Bell.

Bell was dragged from his home by his then-shoulder length hair and his head was repeatedly smashed against the pavement, 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 defense has complained that no charges were filed against those who perpetrated the "vicious" attack on the two men.

But Judge Paul Maughan may allow the jury to hear details of the parents' past criminal records -- including burglary, robbery and assault on a police officer -- which the defense claims predisposed them to react violently.