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Hearing postponed for refugee charged in killing of Utah girl

Published June 11, 2012 10:49 pm

Courts • Interpreters not inadequate, say defense attorney.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Interpreter difficulties on Monday led a judge to postpone — for a fourth time — the preliminary hearing of a Burmese refugee charged with killing a 7-year-old South Salt Lake girl who lived in his apartment building.

Burmese interpreters, said to be some of the best in the country, were brought from California for the hearing of Esar Met, 25, who is charged with first-degree felony counts of murder and child kidnapping in Hser Ner Moo's disappearance and death.

But after a translation test held at the beginning of the hearing, defense attorneys told 3rd District Court Judge William Barrett they could not continue because the interpreters were inadequate. Defense attorney Michael Peterson said some of the translated words were not accurate and others were not even close.

Denise Porter, another of Met's defense attorneys, told Barrett that Met was constitutionally "entitled to a full and accurate translation of the hearing at all stages."

The defense attorneys expressed the continued struggle they have faced in finding adequate Burmese interpreters for the case. After an in-chambers meeting with attorneys to discuss the interpreting issues, Barrett apologized to everyone in the courtroom.

He said "it is a very, very serious case with a lot on the line" and he would give attorneys an opportunity to discuss the issue further so Met's constitutional rights are not violated. Barrett set a July 2 scheduling conference.

Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Rob Parrish said it was frustrating to have the hearing continued again but that he, too, had some concerns with the translation. Parrish added the attorneys must think about the challenges that would come up once medical experts take the stand and talk about more complex issues.

The case would involve at least four different languages: Burmese, Karen, Spanish and English.

Hser Ner Moo's family was not in the courtroom during the hearing, instead waiting outside. The victim's father, Cartoon Wah, said afterward he was frustrated and upset to see the hearing postponed once again. With tears rolling down his face, Wah said through an interpreter he had lost his daughter and "even if I ask God, I can't get her back." He also told reporters he wanted a fair trial.

Met's family, including his mother, father and siblings, attended the hearing, and all sat behind him. His father began weeping shortly after Met was brought into the courtroom.

Hser Ner Moo, a Burmese refugee herself, went missing March 31, 2008, prompting a massive search by hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement. She was found the next day, beaten and raped inside Met's apartment, according to court documents.

The girl's parents and one of Met's former roommates were expected to testify during the week-long hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to order Met to stand trial.

rorellana@sltrib.com