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Jury hears 2 versions in kidnap case

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 23 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

David James Bell, charged with child kidnapping and burglary, talks with an attorney prior to opening arguments in 3rd District court in Salt Lake City Tuesday.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Lulu Latu wept from the witness stand Monday after describing how distraught she was to find her young daughter and nephew in neighbor David James Bell's bedroom.

Bell was lying on the floor, his roommate was sitting on the bed looking sleepy and the two children were standing near the door, holding hands and crying, Latu said.

"He (Bell) was saying things that were making me uncomfortable. He was saying, 'You guys are beautiful,' " Latu said.

Latu admits she "went ballistic," slapped Bell, screamed and swore at him, and marched out with the children, after snapping at Bell to lock his doors because she didn't know what her family would do to him once her relatives found out about this.

Bell, 31, is charged with two counts of child kidnapping, both first-degree felonies, as well as second-degree felony burglary.

Prosecutors believe Bell illegally took the two youngsters, ages 2 and 4, from Latu's house in South Salt Lake over to his own nearby home on July 4, 2008, after he had spent some time there enjoying the festivities with Latu and her family and friends. The children ended up in his bedroom.

Some of the children's enraged relatives kicked in Bell's front door, smashed through windows and severely beat him and his partner, David Fair. Yet those relatives have not since been charged with any crimes.

Bell's defense team, however, insists that Bell, who is gay, was simply a convenient scapegoat for negligent parents who drank and partied all night with little regard for the well-being of their children. Bell's lawyers contend he took the children in after he found them wandering around unsupervised in the early morning hours.

Prosecutor Tupakk Renteria urged the six-man, three-woman jury to disregard peripheral issues surrounding the case and focus on the evidence regarding the crime of kidnapping, which he said occurred when Bell took the children from the neighbor's house. Renteria conceded that Bell had been beaten up but said Bell seemed coherent to police and could recite such details as his birth date and exact weight.

Renteria said Bell also told police, "I took the children. I shouldn't have taken the children."

However, Susanne Gustin, one of Bell's defense lawyers, painted an entirely different picture.

"This is not a case of child kidnapping. This is a case of child neglect," she declared.

Gustin insisted that no one was supervising the children while Lulu Latu and her family were getting drunk and having fun at an all-night party and, when two children wandered off and were taken in by Bell, Latu did not want to be accused of bad parenting.

"Instead of taking responsibility for her and her family's negligence because she allowed the children to wander," they blamed Bell — a convenient target since he is a gay man, Gustin said.

Gustin said Latu used anti-gay slurs during a tirade at Bell's house while retrieving the children and, as Latu left, stated that Bell and his partner "were dead."

Further, Gustin said Bell's comments to police are "nonsensical and unbelievable" because he had sustained a mild traumatic brain injury during the "savage" beating administered by some individuals who had been at Latu's party. Bell also has partial hearing loss in one ear as a result of the beating.

But on the witness stand, Latu said she and her live-in boyfriend, with whom she has two children, hold no biases against gays. They both have gay family members and she has a close woman friend who is a lesbian.

Latu also denied using anti-gay slurs while yelling at Bell, although she said she was "cussing" at him because she was so upset over the children being there.

The trial is set to run through Friday.

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com

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