UPDATE!!! D.J. Bell just found NOT GUILTY; reported by the Deseret News. KSTU Channel 13 story with video HERE
Note: Review all previous posts on this case HERE, with the most recent post appearing first. Also visit the Injustice801 website set up to advocate on behalf of justice for D.J. Bell and Dan Fair.
On Day Four of the trial of D.J. Bell on child kidnapping charges, Bell decided not to take the stand, prosecution and defense delivered their closing arguments, and the case was handed off to the jury at 1:10 P.M. MDT. Deliberations are beginning immediately, so a verdict today is not out of the question. Full stories from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.
The big surprise was that D.J. Bell chose once again not to testify on his own behalf. He was prepared to testify on Thursday September 24th, but the defense pulled him off the stand when Judge Maugham decided the defense couldn't bring the assault into the trial record, except to allow Bell to discuss his state of mind when being questioned by the police. Jurors are routinely instructed not to interpret a defendant's refusal to testify as a sign of guilt, but it would have been a great opportunity for Bell to explain why he brought the two kids into his bedroom, and why he didn't call the police on the Latu family to report child abuse and neglect.
Prosecution closing argument: Prosecutor Tupakk Renteria said there are only two things for the jury to consider. First, were the two preschoolers who were found in Bell's house on July 4, 2008 there without their parents' permission, and second, did Bell's actions and his words after the incident support the defense theory that Bell had simply taken in some children who were wandering around and not being watched closely by their parents? The prosecution maintains the kids were at Bell's house without parental permission, and they also insist that, despite the fact that Bell sustained a mild traumatic brain injury from the subsequent beating, that his actions do not support the defense theory. The prosecution characterized all other concerns as "mirrors and a smokescreen".
Renteria also took exception to a "gay card" comment by the defense and suggested that the defense might be playing a "Polynesian card" by characterizing the parents and other relatives at the party as drunkards who ignored their children and could not be believed.
Defense closing argument: Roger Kraft brought out the following points:
-- Most prosecution witnesses in this case blatantly lied on the stand in order to cover their own negligence as parents that night at what he termed a "drunk fest."
-- The people who claimed their children were kidnapped had short fuses because they drank so much that night, had had no sleep and some of them — Lulu Latu, in particular — had preconceived notions about gay men.
-- Latu, by her own admission, "went ballistic," slapping Bell and screaming and swearing at him. She may have subsequently incited the assault on Bell. Kraft also said that he and Gustin had avoided playing the "gay card" during the trial, but said this whole episode was ignited when Latu's short fuse was lit by her preconceived ideas about gay men when she found the children.
-- It was suspicious that Latu did not call police until 6:52 a.m., when the children had been found around 6 a.m. Kraft suggested that was because she didn't want her family arrested.
-- Kraft and co-counsel Susanne Gustin contend that a group of party-goers stormed over to Bell's place after the children had been located and returned and then beat him severely, causing the mild brain trauma that resulted in some confused thinking on his part that showed up on a police interview tape.
-- The police investigation was incomplete and sloppy, with no interviews of all party-goers or the four other adults in Bell's house. Kraft suggested that police had a theory that this was a child kidnapping and conducted the investigation backwards, fitting facts in to suit the theory.
Analysis: Based upon the evidence presented, I do not see how the jury could possibly arrive at a unanimous verdict of "guilty". The prosecution did not establish by D.J. Bell had any intent to kidnap the children. In addition, the fact that Bell suffered a concussion makes all his statements to the police that night to be suspect.
Consequently, I expect either a "not guilty" verdict, to be delivered as early as tonight, or at the worst, a hung jury, which wouldn't be declared hopelessly deadlocked until sometime next week. Then that would beg the next question - would the Salt Lake County District Attorney have the guts to prefer charges against the culpable members of the Latu family for aggravated assault, home invasion, and possible perjury?