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Judge rips attorney for portraying accused kidnapper as the victim
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

David James Bell, on trial this week for allegedly kidnapping two young neighbor children, took the witness stand Thursday -- and then got down again without saying a word.

Defense attorney Roger Kraft withdrew Bell as a witness after 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan banned the defendant from telling about how and where he was beaten by the parents and relatives of the children.

Kraft argued that Bell should be able to explain everything that happened that night, including details of the beating.

But Maughan has allowed only limited evidence about the assault on Bell, saying the beating is irrelevant to the issue of how the children, ages 2 and 4, ended up next door at Bell's South Salt Lake home on the morning of July 4, 2008.

Earlier Thursday, the judge gave defense attorney Susanne Gustin a stern tongue-lashing for repeatedly asking questions casting Bell in the role of victim.

"Mr. Bell is here as a defendant, not a victim," the judge told Gustin in open court after sending the jury to lunch. "Nothing that happened to Mr. Bell is an issue in this trial."

The trial has been interrupted dozens of times during the past three days as the judge summoned Gustin and other attorneys to the bench for apparent clarifications and admonishments regarding that issue.

"Every time you come up here, you say 'OK,' but it goes on and on," Maughan told Gustin. "You don't seem to be able to follow the court's orders."

The judge said Gustin was acting more like a prosecutor of Bell's assailants than a defense attorney in a child-kidnapping case.

Gustin said it's difficult to question witnesses about what happened with the children without getting into what happened to Bell.

The judge noted prosecutors have acknowledged Bell suffered a "mild traumatic brain injury," which could explain his muddled statements to police after the alleged kidnapping.

The judge also said Bell could testify about his state of mind "as much as he likes." The defense reserved the right to recall Bell.

Also Thursday, Dr. Debra Martin, who works at St. Mark's Hospital emergency room, testified that police brought Bell to the hospital, where she stitched a laceration on his forehead, noted that he had blood behind his right eardrum and that he had suffered a concussion as a result of being beaten about the head.

Sean Lyman, who spent the night at Bell's home, testified he awoke at about dawn to hear Bell say, "Come on, let's try and find your Mommy," followed soon after by "yelling and screaming."

Lulu Latu previously testified she found her 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old nephew in Bell's bedroom with Bell and his partner, Daniel Fair.

Prosecutor Tupakk Renteria told the judge he intended to call Fair to testify, but could not locate him.

Renteria said Fair told a police officer, "I woke up and found Bell in the bedroom with two small children," and that Bell told Fair, "Look at these beautiful children."

The judge said the statements could not be heard by jurors unless Fair, himself, took the witness stand.

shunt@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">shunt@sltrib.com

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