Amid tight security, David “DJ” Bell sat before Third District Court Judge Robert Faust in a preliminary hearing Thursday, Aug. 21 to determine whether the state had enough evidence to proceed to trial on two charges of kidnapping and one charge of burglary.
Supporters of each side of the case sat on opposite sides of the courtroom and heard testimony from parents of the two children Bell is charged with kidnapping and South Salt Lake City Police detective Darren Carr. Following three hours of testimony and cross examination by Bell’s attorney, Roger Kraft, Judge Faust ruled that enough evidence existed to move to trial and set a date for late September for an arraignment hearing.
Bell’s supporters stood outside the Scott Matheson Court House prior to the hearing with signs showing Bell and his partner, Dan Fair, bloodied and bruised after parents of the children and others forced their way into Bell and Fair’s home and allegedly beat them. The children’s parents testified that they and friends and family had been drinking, playing poker and listening to music outside their house since before midnight July 3 through 6:30 a.m. July 4.
According to testimony, Tapululu Latu and Yieti Mageo and their children returned from a South Salt Lake City July 3 fireworks display at around midnight, set off about an hour’s worth of fireworks in the driveway of their home, and sent the six children present to watch a movie in the living room at about 2:00 a.m. Some of the children ended up falling asleep in the living room, though the number of children in the room and their locations changed dramatically with each of the four parents’ testimony. Each said that they went into the house at various times to check on the children, though none of their stories matched in how many children were in the room at any given moment or their positions.
Kraft cross examined each of the four parents present that night, asking for details about where the 12 adults at the party were situated, where the six or eight children were sleeping, and whether they saw Bell enter the home. The testimony was consistent that a table of at least eight adults was within three feet of the side door to the house, the only door any claimed to have used. Accounts varied on the location of vehicles in the driveway, how much the family had to drink, what they were drinking and where children were sleeping.
Mageo testified that he had drunk between “12 and 20” beers.
Kraft also delved into criminal histories of each of the parents, and found that each had at least one felony conviction.
According to Latu, she entered her home at about 6:30 a.m. and found one of her daughters crying in the doorway of the living room. She testified that the daughter said that she dreamed that “a man” had taken her sister. Latu said she initially dismissed the notion and put her daughter back to bed, only to find that her two-year-old daughter was not in the living room as she thought. After searching the house, Latu testified she had a “mother’s instinct” to go next door in search of her daughter. She said she went next door, knocked on the door and entered the house, finding her daughter and a four-year-old nephew in Bell and Fair’s bedroom, with Bell lying on the floor and Fair sitting on the bed.
Kraft asked Latu on cross examination whether her daughter had said “a man” or “a monster with white hair,” implying that other versions of her story may have been different than her testimony that morning. He asked several times whether her story had changed from the original police report to the several existing media reports to that day’s testimony. She said that her story remained unchanged.
Kraft was thwarted at every turn in efforts to ask questions about what happened after the children were removed from Bell and Fair’s premises. According to Bell, Fair and several others present in the household, five adults broke into the house and beat both Fair and Bell, breaking Fair’s eye socket and causing several gashes on his head and body, and beating Bell’s head against the concrete driveway, possibly causing irreparable deafness in one ear, cutting at his throat and feet with glass shards and beating him with their fists.
No charges have yet been filed in the beatings. The South Salt Lake city attorney was out of town the week of the trial and could not be reached.
South Salt Lake City Police detective Darren Carr also took the stand as the lead detective in the case. He said that Bell admitted taking the children at one point, then changed his story to the children coming to the door.
Kraft asked if Bell had asked for an attorney, to which Carr said he did.
“At that point, did you close your notebook and stop the interview?” Kraft asked.
“No. Bell modified his request for an attorney and chose to talk to me,” Carr said.
Kraft asked if the detective had noticed Bell’s condition while he was interviewing him an hour after the incident occurred. Carr said that Bell had a scratch on his ear and two black eyes. Kraft then asked about wounds to Bell’s throat and feet.
“He had no damage to his throat or his toe,” Carr testified.
A booking photo clearly shows Bell with cuts on his throat and above his eye. Hospital records also show cuts on his feet.
Kraft questioned why Carr only interviewed Latu, Bell and the two children. Carr claimed that another officer under his command interviewed others who were in the home, that the interviews were recorded, and that he had reviewed the recordings.
Bell’s supporters are claiming that Carr perjured himself on the stand.
“I know for a fact that the [South Salt Lake] police didn’t interview at least three of the people Kraft asked about,” said Lorie Mair, a friend of Bell and Fair. “Those tapes don’t exist.”
Kraft also punched a hole in the testimony that a four-foot fence completely surrounds the neighbor’s house.
“You can clearly see in this photo that there is a gap in the fence,” Kraft told the judge.
According to court documents, prosecutors theorize that Bell entered the house by the side door, took the two children, left through the back door of the house, threw the children over the four-foot fence, climbed the fence himself and took them into his house.
Det. Carr admitted that none of those he interviewed saw Bell enter the house, though they were within feet of the door; nor did any witness see Bell with the children prior to the mother finding them in the house.
Since this hearing was to determine if the state had enough evidence to go to trial on the case, a defense was not mounted by Bell or his attorney.
The judge ruled immediately after Kraft rested, saying the state had met its burden of proof and scheduled an arraignment hearing for the end of September. The judged refused a motion to waive the arraignment and take a plea that day.
Bell supporters have created a Web site at Injustice801.com with news and photos.