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5 plead guilty in beating of DJ Bell and his partner

5 plead guilty in beating of DJ Bell and his partner

By Spencer Garn | Posted - Mar. 21, 2011 at 7:01 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Five people charged in connection with the beating of a man and his partner in their home in 2008, pleaded guilty Monday to reduced charges.

Ricky Ian Peace, 34, Leti David Mageo, 33, and letitaia Tavita Nuusila, 27, pleaded to reduced charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated assault and rioting, all third-degree felonies. Each felony charge could carry a five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.

Two women charged in the assault pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges. Charges against another woman were dismissed and one woman plans to take her case to a jury.

The pleas stem from a July 4, 2008, incident in which the men broke through the door of David James "DJ" Bell's South Salt Lake home and assaulted him and Dan Fair.

"I feel vindicated," Bell said after leaving the courtroom Monday. "They need some time to sit (in prison) and reflect on what they've done. And maybe, hopefully become better people."

The men brutally attacked Bell and Fair after a late-night party because they believed he had kidnapped the 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old nephew of Tapululululu Latu, 31. Bell was initially charged with kidnapping and burglary after the allegations but was later acquitted by a jury in the high-profile case in September 2009.

Prosecutors say the men and four women broke into Bell's home and threw a TV onto Fair's head, smashing his right eye socket. Bell sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, cuts on his feet and neck and permanent partial hearing loss in one ear because of the beating. Prosecutor Susanne Gustin said the attackers were shouting gay slurs during the attack.

"It's not one night that we felt this horror," Fair said. "I look in the mirror every day and see the scars that they left."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill said he believes the resolution is appropriate.

"It was an opportunity to hold the individuals accountable without having to waste any more taxpayers' money," Gill said. "Given what the history of this case has been, (the victims) probably didn't get the full measure of justice."

Latu took an Alford plea on a reduced charge of attempted riot, a class A misdemeanor. The Alford plea allows her to assert her innocence while admitting the prosecution could likely prove the charge. She will be sentenced as if she pleaded guilty.

"She's drained and she's interested in getting her family through this and getting this behind them," said defense attorney Taylor Hartley.

Hartley said he was worried the judge wouldn't accept the seldom-used Alford plea, but wanted to avoid the risk of a more serious resolution.

"This resolution is, I believe, a very good one," Hartley said. "Morally, we want to state the truth and the truth is she's not guilty.

Family members flanked another defendant, Angelina Janae Dibella, 32, as she left the court crying after charges of riot, a third-degree felony and assault, a class A misdemeanor, were dismissed. She declined to comment.

When 3rd District Judge Robert Faust asked Bell if he was OK with dismissing Dibella's charges, Bell referred to the kidnapping charges he once faced which carried a minimum 31-year prison sentence.

"I was accused of something I didn't do," he told Faust. "I'd rather not charge her with something she didn't do if I don't know for sure."

Gill said there were several witnesses who didn't see Dibella at the scene of the beating but instead at the house where the group was partying.

Lisa Rita Aiono, the 27 year-old mother of the 4-year boy she accused Bell of kidnapping, maintains her innocence and will stand trial for riot, a third-degree felony, in June.

"She's absolutely innocent, she shouldn't be charged." said her attorney, Clayton Simms. "The jury's going to find out she had nothing to do with this."

The final of the seven defendants, Marsha Ray Finau, 31, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of riot, a class B misdemeanor. She was initially charged with third-degree felony riot. Her defense attorney said she was present but didn't participate in the assault.

All five defendants will be sentenced May 23.

Email:sgarn@ksl.com

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Spencer Garn

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