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Prosecutors not seeking death penalty for Burmese refugee accused of Utah girl's murder

Published February 22, 2013 1:14 pm

Prosecutors will forgo seeking death penalty, citing difficulty to get files in Burmese refugee camps.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against a Burmese refugee charged with the 2008 kidnapping and murder of a young refugee girl at the South Salt Lake apartment complex where they both lived.

Esar Met, 26, is charged in 3rd District Court with two first-degree felony counts in connection with the 2008 slaying of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo: aggravated murder and child kidnapping.

Since the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty, Met could face life without the possibility of parole, or 20 years to life in prison, if found guilty of aggravated murder. A two-week trial is set to begin July 15 before Judge Judith Atherton.

The decision to forego seeking the death penalty in this case was a difficult one, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Ultimately, Gill said, it came down to records his office felt they needed to successfully prosecute a death penalty case — documents located in Burmese refugee camps that have been difficult to obtain.

"This case has been dragging out for a long time," Gill said Friday. "We wanted to make sure we could go forward with this and get [Met] in front of a judge and jury, and get him prosecuted. Taking all things into consideration, it made sense for us not to seek the death penalty in this matter so we could proceed with the criminal prosecution."

Gill would not elaborate on the records his office sought.

"It's important to note that choosing not to seek the death penalty in this case doesn't affect our resolve," Gill said. "We are confident in our evidence and our prosecution."

Met was ordered to stand trial in December, following a six-day preliminary hearing that included testimony from the girl's parents, Met's roommates, police, FBI agents and medical experts.

Met is accused of beating, raping and strangling Hser Ner Moo.

Among the evidence prosecutors have presented is the denim jacket Met was wearing when he was arrested at a relative's home. The jacket had multiple stains on it, and at least one stain was the child's blood, an expert testified.

Hser Ner Moo disappeared on March 31, 2008, prompting hundreds of volunteers to search for her before police found her body in Met's apartment the next night. Her family lived in the same complex, and the girl was acquainted with Met.

She was found face down in Met's shower, still in the pink shirt, pink skirt and pink coat she was wearing the day before. Police have said the girl was likely dead within an hour of leaving her family's nearby apartment.

At the December preliminary hearing, FBI agents testified about searching Met's South Parc Townhones apartment the night of April 1, 2008.

FBI Special Agent James Lamadrid testified that he and Agent James Olson saw what they believed to be dried blood on the carpet and wall in the basement of apartment 472 where Met lived, at 2250 S. 500 East.

It was the spatter on the wall, in particular, that raised concerns for Olson.

"It kind of sealed the deal for me that this was not only blood, but the place where the victim was either beaten or killed," he testified.

When Olson left to notify a sergeant, Lamadrid searched a basement bathroom, and saw the little girl's foot sticking out of a shower.

Lamadrid said he called Hser Ner Moo's name but heard no response. He shined a flashlight on her back, hoping to see the rise and fall of breath, but saw none.

A South Salt Lake Fire crew arrived to declare the child's death. Paramedic Andrew Mauerer said he and a partner walked down stairs and saw the flash of an investigator's camera in the darkened bathroom.

"Honestly it was spooky," he said. "It was, to me, a horror scene."

Maurer said the girl was cold and not breathing. Paramedics made no attempt to resuscitate her.

Hser Ner Moo's family sat through five of the six days of preliminary hearing testimony, often wiping away tears as witnesses described the events surrounding their only daughter's death.

The case has suffered a number of setbacks since charges were filed against Met nearly five years ago, some due to concerns about the quality of the interpreters being used. Also, on several occasions, Met's attorneys said they had reached a resolution in the case, only to have Met change his mind in court.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: marissa_jae