Quantcast

Trial looms for Burmese refugee accused in 2008 Utah murder

Published December 4, 2013 7:13 pm

Courts • Defense argues crime scene photos of victim are "too gruesome" for jurors.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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 and defense attorneys still have much to do before a Burmese refugee accused of kidnapping and killing a young girl at the South Salt Lake apartment complex where they both lived in 2008 is brought to trial.

But Senior Judge Judith Atherton said Wednesday she doesn't want to postpone the case any longer.

After nearly six years of delays, Esar Met's three-week trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 6.

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

On Wednesday, defense attorneys asked the judge to suppress evidence in the case they said was collected using illegal or unethical methods and petitioned the court to have prosecutors use diagrams instead of certain graphic photos that, the defense argued, are "too gruesome" for jurors.

Prosecutors called the photos relevant, saying they show the brutality with which the child was killed and the injuries she suffered.

"The person who did this, who dragged her into the shower and left her, intended her to die," prosecutor Robert Parrish said. "They are not gruesome photographs in and of themselves."

Atherton will issue a decision next week on whether or not a jury will be allowed to view the photos, which depict the 7-year-old girl crumpled inside a bathroom stall, bloodied and naked from the waist down, with obviously broken bones and bruised and damaged genitals.

Defense attorneys also argued Wednesday that evidence collected from inside the basement where the child was found should be inadmissible because investigators were let into the area — which was Met's living space — without the defendant's consent.

The judge will also rule on this issue next week, when both sides reconvene for an evidentiary hearing.

At that hearing, the defense will argue and put on evidence to show that Met was allegedly coerced into making statements to police by a rogue interpreter, who, defense attorneys said, caused Met to believe that if he didn't tell police what they wanted to hear, he would be put to death.

"He was under pressure; he felt the need to make a statement about what happened to the girl or he would face the immediate penalty of death," defense attorney Michael Peterson said. "The question becomes, what obligation do law enforcement have to make sure things are being interpreted effectively? Do they just get to grab a random Burmese refugee off the street? And if what's interpreted is inaccurate or coercive, do they just get to say, 'Oh well, we didn't know?' "

It's one of several issues the case has seen involving interpreters, which has caused numerous delays and problems over the last five years of proceedings.

Other setbacks have included 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.

Met was ordered to stand trial last 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.

Prosecutors ultimately decided to forgo seeking the death penalty against Met to move the case along.

Instead, Met could face life without the possibility of parole or 20 years to life in prison, if found guilty of aggravated murder.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae