July 4 should be a day for fun, family and the celebration of freedom.
But for DJ Bell and Dan Fair, July 4, 2008 was nothing less than a nightmare.
In the days that followed Bell and Fair’s beating at the hands of several men at a party next door, events became muddled, thanks in part to conflicting reports, biased headlines and the community outrage and fear that always accompanies cases where children appear to have been harmed.
What we do know is this: In the early hours of a long-lived Fourth of July Celebration, Bell and Fair’s then next door neighbor, Lulu Latu, discovered that her two-year-old daughter and her cousin’s four-year-old son were missing. She found them, crying but unharmed, at Bell and Fair’s house and took them home. While Latu and her family maintain that Bell, whom they say visited the party earlier in the evening, took the children, witnesses at Bell and Fair’s house — including one housemate — say the crying children wandered next door, tired from the party and looking for their mother.
Shortly after the children’s recovery, several men from the party broke through the couple’s back and front doors, shattered a window, and threw a television set at Fair’s head. The men caught Bell outside on the car port where they beat his head into the concrete, cut at his throat with glass and nearly severed one of his toes. When police responded to calls of a fight in progress, they arrested a bloodied and shaken Bell. To this date, the Salt Lake District Attorney’s office has yet to press charges against the attackers.
The shocking photographs of Bell and Fair’s injuries, as well as the way in which police handled the case, enraged the local gay community, who held protests at the Matheson Courthouse, during Bell’s arraignment hearing. And unsurprisingly, that summer was filled with several distressing cases of gay men who reported being assaulted at parties, and even in their own apartment complexes.
“It seemed to set off a trend,” agrees Fair. “The people who did this [to us] didn’t get punished, so they had no fear.”
A little over a year after the events of that evening, QSaltLake sat down for an interview with Bell and Fair. Bell, a drag performer well-known by his stage name “Lola,” is a slight and soft-spoken man who enthuses about the beauty of his new home (the couple moved shortly after the attacks) and his love for his partner. He tears up several times during the interview and at one point excuses himself to the patio for a cigarette break to calm himself. Sitting on the sofa next to Fair, he rests his hand on his partner’s shoulder.
“I can forgive them for what they did to me, but not for what they did to him,” he says. “Hearing him scream out in pain [while Bell was outside on the car port], and I couldn’t do anything to save him because I was told if I moved, I’d be killed. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt, knowing my best friend and partner was that close to being taken away from me. They tried to take away his light. There are days when Dan’s not there when I wake up, and I cry because I’m terrified of him being taken away from me.”
“It’s OK,” Fair soothes.
“No, it’s not,” Bell says, wiping his eyes. “That’s what hurts the most.”
The couple now share a beautiful home elsewhere in the Salt Lake Valley (for obvious reasons, QSaltLake will not mention what town). Bell says they moved away as soon as they could, first to North Salt Lake, and then to their present location. They had to move back to the valley, he says, because of last year’s skyrocketing gas prices, and because of Fair’s job.
“We felt so unsafe in the valley,” he says. “We felt like everywhere we went, we had to watch our back. We do feel safe here, but it has taken some work. One thing I was so angry about when I got out of jail was that I always felt like Salt Lake City was my home. They took that away from me, and if I feel like if I move anywhere else, it won’t be home. But I’m hoping once September ends that it will be home again.”
September 21 is the date of Bell’s trial. He faces charges of kidnapping and burglary. Each count carries a minimum sentence of 15 years — the same sentence, Bell points out, for first degree murder. In all, he could be facing 30 years in prison.
“They’re trying to keep from the jury that it’s the equivalent to murder,” he says. “I could be spending life in prison.”
The couple says they are frustrated at the justice system on all levels — at police investigators on the scene who they say did not conduct a thorough investigation and did not arrest the men who attacked them and at prosecutors for not pursuing assault charges against their attackers. Fair has retained Collin King, a civil attorney who will bring charges against his attackers if the city’s district attorney’s office continues to take no action.
“And even if they do,” Fair says. “They failed me.”
The two are also upset that the criminal records of some of their attackers, including that of Latu’s boyfriend Ieti Mageo, may not be heard in court. These are not charges for unrelated crimes like petty theft, say the couple, but a history of assault.
Fair explained further in an Aug. 17 blog post to the Web site Injustice801.com, a site set up by the couple’s friend Megan Pedersen, and which contains information about their case and ways to contribute to their legal fund.
“Some of the things our attackers have done in the past have recently passed the 10 year mark,” wrote Fair. “One of the crimes is the one where the father, who was one of my attackers, did the same thing to another home and their occupants. We are not sure of the reason behind his behavior but the attack itself is very reminiscent of the attack on DJ and me. They smashed in doors, windows, whatever they could to get in and beat up the people inside. In the attack on those people, baseball bats and other items were used to inflict as much damage as possible. Sounds pretty familiar, huh?
“Well … the judge decided that if the prior conviction occurred 10 years prior to the date of the trial, the charge was inadmissible. Do you know what happened on the VERY DAY the charge was set to fall off Mageo’s record? The state requested a continuance! Was this merely coincidence or trickery on the part of the prosecution? The prosecutor swears that asking for more time had nothing to do with allowing the charges to fall off. I say “Whatever lady”!
“Currently the judge is still deliberating on whether to allow this heinous conviction to be presented or not. Judging from all the previous times he has seen fit to side with the prosecution; we fear that he will not allow the previous convictions.”
Fair also says he does not think the presiding judge, Paul Maughn, is objective. In his blog posts, he has criticized Maughn for being indecisive, and he tells QSaltLake that he thinks Maughn is biased to the prosecution.
“He seems to be one sided,” he says. “He always seems to lean towards the prosecution, even though our lawyers make good points.”
Although Salt Lake Valley’s gay community has stood largely behind the two since that July night, Pedersen says that she hopes the community at large will follow suit. Judging by many of the comments the couple have received through Injustice801.com, she says this seems to be the case.
“When this all first happened, there were people [on news sites like Desnews.com and KSL.com] who were very cruel,” she says, referring to comments on news stories about the case that called for Bell’s torture and murder. “But it seems the tide has turned. A lot of people are saying, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ I feel more people are saying this is not as cut and dry as it appeared to be.”
Whether the tide is turning or not, Bell and Fair still hope that the gay community will show up for the Sept. 21 trial. Jury selection, said Fair, will begin at 9:00 a.m., and a protest is scheduled in front of the Matheson Courthouse at 8:00 a.m. While the couple hope the trial will last no longer than a week, they admit that its duration is anyone’s guess.
“But we want to call on our community and family to be there as often as possible,” says Fair. “The courtroom is not big, which is fine. We’re hoping it’ll be overflowed with our supporters, and that people will stay outside protesting. It’s time for people who love us to get together and say we’ve had enough. Whether it be us in our struggle or some other injustice, that we’re tired of it and want to see something change.”
For more information about Bell and Fair’s case,to read Fair’s blog posts, or to make a donation to the couple’s legal fund, visit Injustice801.com.