Beating should be deemed hate crime

By By John Stafford

By John Stafford

DJ Bell received the news of his life Friday: not guilty on all charges. It took the 3rd District Court less than three hours to acquit Bell, who was charged with two counts of first-degree felony child-kidnapping and one count of second-degree felony burglary last July. The verdict marks a huge momentum swing in the case.

Bell was accused by Lulu Latu, his neighbor and mother of two children found at his home July 4. Bell said he had brought the children to sleep at his house, because there was a loud party at their house. The family interpreted this as kidnapping, and after reclaiming the children, some male family members arrived at the house, who beat up Bell and his gay partner.

The defense is now on the offensive, asking for charges to be filed against Bell’s vigilante attackers.

Openly gay Utah Sen. Scott McCoy called the district attorney’s handling of the case “disgraceful” and said, “We do have hate crimes in the state of Utah that are happening. We do have a law on the books to deal with it, but that doesn’t really matter if we don’t have law enforcement officials and prosecutors who are willing to recognize a hate crime when it happens, to investigate it as a hate crime and to prosecute it as a hate crime.”

After Bell’s acquittal, the DA’s office said it would look into filing charges against the people who assaulted Bell. The lack of evidence presented by the prosecution had some members of the jury wondering why the case had even come to trial in the first place. Juror Natasha Jorgensen said that she felt the trial had been a waste of time and $100,000 of taxpayers’ money.

The fact of the matter is that the prosecution failed to produce any eyewitnesses and had no evidence that Bell entered Latu’s house. The cornerstone of the case was a police interview where Bell allegedly said, “I took the children and I shouldn’t have taken them.” However, the validity of this statement as a confession was easily refuted by the defense. The traumatic head injury that Bell had just received8212;he still has hearing loss in his right ear8212;disqualified this statement as an admission of guilt.

Growing up, I experienced my fair share of concussions from skiing and playing lacrosse. During my last major one8212;I haven’t had one since high school, fortunately; knock on wood8212;I was asked in the hospital to identify my father. I could only see a complete stranger who for some reason was calling out an insignificant name: mine. That was from one blow sustained while I was wearing a helmet. Bell’s head was repeatedly slammed into the concrete. Bell’s attorneys claimed that the severity of his head injury made his confession involuntary and was therefore inadmissible evidence. The jury agreed.

The utter lack of any substantial evidence in this case suggests an ugly truth. Bell would have been more likely considered a victim rather than a kidnapper had he been heterosexual8212;or “normal,” as Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka would say. The case seemed to hinge on one unfortunate misconception: gay equals pedophile.

I’ll admit when I initially heard that Bell was quoted as saying “You are so beautiful,” to the children I found it to be a bit disturbing. Luckily, I quickly caught myself and acknowledged my error. I’ve often heard my mother say those exact words to young children. I realized that I had judged this man prematurely, based solely on his sexual orientation.

This notion has been ingrained into our psyche to the extent that it has become a subconscious reflex. This is why many assumed Bell was a kidnapper, why he was arrested, why he and his partner were beaten profusely and why nothing has been done about it. Authorities had not discussed charging the vigilantes seriously until Bell’s acquittal. To them, he was guilty until proven innocent.

The beatings of DJ Bell and Dan Fair are too brutal and senseless to ignore, and the prosecution should try for an attempted murder conviction if charges are indeed filed. Because the assailants cut Bell’s throat repeatedly with a broken piece of glass, Bell should have a case.

Now that Bell can return to his day-to-day life, it seems that the scales of justice have started to tip back toward equilibrium. Once Bell’s assailants are charged with the heinous crime they committed and tried in a court of law, we might rekindle some sense of impartiality.

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