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Charges questioned in attack on gays

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Defendants accused of beating up David "DJ" Bell and his partner, Dan Fair, appear before Judge Judith Atherton.

Defendants accused of beating up David “DJ” Bell and his partner, Dan Fair, appear before Judge Judith Atherton.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Defense attorneys for a group of South Salt Lake residents accused of attacking two gay men are questioning why prosecutors are pursuing charges now, almost two years after the alleged incident.

Appearing Tuesday before 3rd District Court Judge Judith Atherton, the seven former neighbors, their families and friends, and a cadre of defense attorneys packed the courtroom.

The seven defendants were charged March 2 with attacking David James "DJ" Bell and his partner, Dan Fair, in their home after a late-night party on July 4, 2008, during which neighbors said Bell kidnapped two children.

Prosecutors previously had declined to file charges in connection with the beatings, but after Bell was acquitted of kidnapping and burglary charges in September 2009, officials reconsidered the case.

Now, that flip-flop has at least one attorney calling foul.

Attorney Clayton Simms, who represents Lisa Aiona, the mother of one of the children, said prosecutors officially declined to file felony charges in 2008 but left open the possibility of misdemeanor charges.

According to a letter written on Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller's letterhead from Justice Division administrator Paul Parker to a public defender representing the neighbors, "the District Attorney's Office declined to file felony charges on the parents for burglary and aggravated assault."

The letter, obtained by the Deseret News, does not mention riot, the third-degree felony charge Aiona now faces.

Simms argues that prosecutors can't take two legal positions.

"You can't say someone is a victim and then turn around and say they are the defendant," he said.

DA spokesman Mark Biljanic said the letter is irrelevant.

"These are two totally separate cases," Biljanic said. "Subsequent investigation by the South Salt Lake Police Department and the district attorney revealed new information that warranted the new charges."

Although Tuesday's hearing simply resulted in the judge scheduling more hearings, the few statements presented by defense attorneys revealed some indications of their arguments.

Simms said he has filed motions to dismiss the case against his client because he believes the state has taken too long to file the charges. Potentially more controversial, however, is Simms' request that the DA's office recuse itself because one of the prosecutors in the kidnapping trial now appears on the state's witness list.

The case has stirred strong emotions, as Bell asserted he was targeted because he is gay, while the neighbors, all Pacific Islanders, insist Bell would have been convicted if the children were white.

Bell said he and Fair have received threats on the Internet as well as in person. "The fact that we have been taunted is disgusting," he said Tuesday.

While he said he has no opinion of Bell's case, Simms said his client is a victim.

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but all I know is that my client is a victim," he said.

Bell and Fair, who both attended Tuesday's hearing, dismissed that assertion.

"We always have been and always will be the victims," Fair said.

Bell said he has been victimized twice — first by the beating, then by the trial.

During Bell's trial, one of the neighbors, Lulu Latu (also known as Tapululululu Latu), testified that Bell took her daughter and nephew to his house during the party, prompting other partygoers to kick in Bell's front door, smash windows and beat Bell and Fair in their home.

Bell maintained that he gave the children, ages 2 and 4, some Kool-Aid after they followed him to his house and asked for a drink. He said the children stood in the doorway as they drank.

Bell initially was charged with two counts of child kidnapping and burglary, but a jury acquitted him on all counts.

A relieved and triumphant Bell said after his trial that he and Fair had never harmed the children. Bell also said he never lured the youngsters into his bedroom — which is something Latu testified she personally observed.

Tapululululu Latu, 30, Lisa Rita Aiono, 26, and Marsha Rae Finau, 30, are each charged with riot, a third-degree felony. Angelina Janae Dibella, 31, is charged with riot, a third-degree felony, and assault, a class A misdemeanor. Ricky Ian Peace, 33, and Ieti David Mageo, 32, are charged with aggravated burglary and aggravated assault, a first-degree felony, and riot, a third-degree felony. Ietitaia Tavita Nuusila, 26, is charged with aggravated burglary and aggravated assault, a first-degree felony; riot, a third-degree felony; assault, a class A misdemeanor; and giving false personal information to a peace officer, a class A misdemeanor.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com