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July trial seems imminent for Burmese refugee accused of Utah girl's murder

Published March 22, 2013 3:16 pm

After five years of delays, prosecutors are ready to bring Esar Met to justice.
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After nearly five years of delays, prosecutors are ready to take the case against a Burmese refugee accused of kidnapping and killing a young girl at the South Salt Lake apartment complex where they both lived to trial.

If all goes as planned, they will get that chance come July.

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

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

But following a brief appearance in court Friday before Judge Judith Atherton, prosecutor Robert Parrish said the case appeared on track for a July 15 trial date.

To further ensure that deadline will be met, prosecutors decided to forgo seeking the death penalty against Met, a difficult decision that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said came down to a desire to bring the case to trial sooner rather than later.

That means rather than facing death, Met could face life without the possibility of parole or 20 years to life in prison, if found guilty of aggravated murder.

"This case has been dragging out for a long time," Gill told the Tribune last month. "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 said prosecutors did not feel comfortable moving forward with a death penalty case without certain records they unsuccessfully tried to obtain from Burmese refugee camps overseas. He did not elaborate on the records his office sought.

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.

He has pleaded not guilty to beating, raping and strangling Hser Ner Moo.

Among the evidence prosecutors presented in December was 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 Townhomes 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. The little girl's foot was later spotted sticking out of a shower.

Paramedics said the girl was cold and not breathing; they 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.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: marissa_jae