Posted // 2009-09-25 -
DJ Bell was accused of kidnapping two children, ages 2 and 4, from his next door neighbor. He and his boyfriend were subsequently attacked. While Bell as put on trial--and faced decades in prison--the attackers have not been criminally charged.
The "not guilty" verdict was delivered about 3:40 p.m. The following press conference occurred after the jurors met with the defendant and defense team.
None of the Latu family or supporters offered comments. Assistant District Attorney Tupakk Renteria rushed out along side them
- Bell turned down a plea bargain that would have excluded prison time; he was facing 30 years to life.
- Gustin says the jurors were “disgusted and irritated” that Bell was on trial
- Neither Bell nor his attorneys believe the attack as a hate crime
- Gustin calls South Salt Lake Police Department's investigation “shoddy;” Bell calls it “disgusting.”
- The defense criticizes the trial, saying the truth was ruled inadmissable
Post-trial press conference rush transcript:
Former defendant DJ Bell
Defense Attorney Roger Kraft
Defense attorney Susanne Gustin
Bell: For once in a very corrupt system that I found it to be, justice has finally been served.
Reporter: You looked calm today. What were your thoughts?
Bell: A prayer from my father gave me a lot of strength and allowed me to be more calm. I have the best defense on the face of the planet.
Reporter: was there any times you thought you would be convicted?
Bell: Absolutely, you always have that fear.
Kraft: DJ Bell had the opportunity to take a plea bargain in this case that would have included the state requesting or saying they would not request any prison time. And DJ turned that down because he knew he was innocent, there was no way he was going to admit to anything in this case.
Reporter: So you were literally all in?
Gustin: This was all or nothing.
Bell: I wasn't willing to cop to something I didn't do.
Gustin: He was the victim in this case and those guys should have been on trial. The wrong person was on trial in this case.
Reporter: what happens now? are you going to go after charges?
Gustin: That's up the DA (Lohra Miller). I don't know what she's going to do. But these charges against DJ never should have been brought. And it was very obvious and it was very obvious to the jurors because they said that was a total waste of taxpayer's money. That cost about $100,000. What a waste. They were disgusted and irritated that this case was brought.
Reporter: this is the jurors?
Gustin: This is the jurors. They were mad. They were angry. They said they were angry.
Kraft: Not to mention the fact that DJ Bell for the last year has been considered by many to be a kidnapper. He's had to go thru this process. he's had to hire attorneys, he's had to pay for expert witnesses. All of these things that never should have happened to him and he'll never get that time back, he'll never get those resources back.
Reporter: so do you go after these folks now?
Kraft: That's a decision to be made in the future by DJ.
Gustin: In the near future it will be made.
Reporter: A civil lawsuit perhaps?
Gustin: Potentially, yes.
Reporter: For the first time we can actually hear what happened that time?
Bell: Absolutely. I don't think I want to make any statements today because I'm ready to pass out.
Bell: But over the next couple days I will give my story and if you need to have any further questions or want to get in contact with me you would probably want to get a hold of my family spokesperson Megan Pedersen.
Reporter: Do you think it was about sexual preference?
Bell: Orientation not preference, I was born this way.
Bell: But I think, I don't think that was a huge thing. I think it was a factor in it.
Gustin: Well and everyone thought we were saying this was a hate crime. That wasn't our theory. Our theory was that they jumped to conclusions because he was gay. If they went over there and there were an elderly woman in there, or even a straight guy, he would not be charged with kidnapping. They jumped to the conclusion because he was gay. We're not saying it was a hate crime. But that played into it.
Kraft: It was a factor in the case, among other factors. You stay up all night, you drink all night, you've got these preconceived notions about gay men then something happens and you flip out without asking any questions. That's not a fair or reasonable way to act.
Reporter: Megan said she was very disappointed in the South Salt Lake Police's handling of this.
Gustin: It was completely botched. (undecipherable) To this day our witnesses were never interviewed and they were in that house that night. Even some of our witnesses called and requested, they said we have information on this and their calls were not returned.
Kraft: The police department's idea of an investigation was to show up three days later, take 22 pictures and call it good. That's not an investigation in a kidnapping case.
Reporter: Not to mention taking a "confession" from a guy with a concussion.
Gustin: Well, exactly. All of these pictures taken the first day were of DJ Bell's house and that's because they were pummeled inside. So you had over 100 photos of the inside of his house. Not one photo of the Latu house, not one photo. And their witnesses were not interviewed. Anybody at the party. You heard in there, they didn't' interview witnesses that were at the party, now that's shoddy work. And you want to put someone away for 30 years to life on that type of investigation? That's, that's just unfair and unjust.
Bell: It's disgusting.
Reporter: When the judge said don't bring up the beating, it's not about the beating, what was going...
Bell: To an extent, this was a case of child kidnapping an alleged child kidnapping, and although it should have been involved, the beating should have been involved because that way they would have known what frame of mind I was in when I gave a statement.
Gustin: It explains the motive. The beating explains the motive that all of the neighbors had to go over and beat these guys up because they didn't want their family members arrested. She waited 52 minutes to call 911. She did not think her kids were kidnapped. She called 911 to report that her family was going to kill the neighbors. So she didn't want them arrested for attempted homicide. That's why the 911 call came in. We were not allowed to get into the 911 call but that was the reason and that's why the assault and beatings were relevant to this case. They showed their motive and they also showed his state of mind when he gave the statement to the cops, which was very confusing.
Kraft: This case has been an absolute battle from the very beginning, because in this fight to show the truth we weren't allowed to do that. Because there was no way to really separate out the assault and the "kidnapping." We were forced to put on a defense that was not entirely accurate or truthful. And that's not what the justice system is about.
Gustin: We had to work around the evidence that came in at trial, which is very bizarre because I've never had to , kind of, manufacture a story around the evidence. And that's not really how the justice system should work.
Reporter: DJ, are you still suffering from injuries you received?
Bell: I do have, i have some nerve damage to where when I touch the point of chin, it's scarred there, I can feel it right here. I have partial hearing loss in my right ear.
Reporter: Were you surprised it only took a couple hours to come back?
Kraft: We were not surprised...
Kraft: ...by this verdict that fast. If anybody was sitting in there looked at the evidence or lack of evidence in this case, there is no way you could be surprised at a not guilty verdict. This is an innocent man. I would have been shocked if we had had a guilty verdict.
Reporter: you heard that "not guilty" loud and clear
Bell: Absolutely, I almost wet myself.
Reporter: What now, you've been dealing with this so long.
Bell: Since I've had to put my entire life on hold for over a year, I'd like to get my butt back in school and start, restart my degree and finish that in the next year and half, in architectural and interior design.
Jesse Fruhwirth: DJ, I know you probably don't want to disparage your defense attorneys, but I imagine the economic, the money side of this has been rather difficult.
Kraft: I'll address that for you if you like. I will tell you now: I am the only attorney on the case that's really been paid. I have had the most incredible defense team that stepped up to plate. When I realized how big this case was, the first person I called was Susanne Gustin, to say will you help me with that. She came into it with no money whatsoever. She read the case. She knew it was a bunch of bunk. She stepped up the plate. Then we also brought in Andy Deiss and Billy Siddoway (spelling?) who helped with this case. And we could not be more proud of the team that stepped up for the right cause.
Gustin: We'd also like to thank, we've had three private investigators who worked for free. We had surveillance at the Latu house that was all done for free. (Former City Weekly staffer) Shane Johnson put in over a year on this for free. Tod Gaggler (spelling). Gary Potter drove 12 straight hours with his dogs in the car to get here, he couldn't get on a flight, and he drove here for us. He was not paid either. No one on this case was paid.
Kraft: Except me.
Gustin: Except Roger and he was not paid enough.
Someone: He's buying tonight.
Kraft: it was awesome to see witnesses come out of the woodwork to help DJ when they saw the facts of this case. We had witness fly from Colorado and basically put herself up and paid for her own self to be here because she knew it was the right thing to do. When you see someone charged with a crime, and you know they're innocent, that's what America's about. You step up and do the right thing. And this is the result.
Reporter: Can we have just a hint of what really happened of how those kids...
Gustin: We will do that tomorrow. We'll pull our brains...(undecipherable) tomorrow.
(undecipherable, cross talking)
(court room pool photography by Jeffrey Allred)
Is race a factor in DJ Bell case? Sept. 25, 2009
Brandon's Big Gay Blog: Muddled statements? Really?, Sept. 25, 2009
Bell pulled from witness stand in kidnapping case, Sept. 24, 2009
Mother testifies in kidnapping trial of gay man, Sept. 22, 2009
Brandon's Big Gay Blog: DJ Bell is on Trial, Sept. 22, 2009
Kidnapping trial begins against gay victim of attack, Sept. 21 2009
DJ Bell Trial set for September, Aug. 3, 2009
Crime and Prejudice, July 30 2008
Injustice801, a site setup by Bell and Fair supporters