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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Esar Met, accused killer of 7-year-old neighbor Hser Ner Moo, appears in 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton's court in Salt Lake City Friday December 7, 2012, for an arraignment. His defense lawyer Michael Peterson, right. He pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and murder charges.
Trial begins for refugee accused in 2008 Utah murder
Courts » Esar Met is accused of killing 7-year-old neighbor Hser Ner Moo in March 2008.
First Published Jan 06 2014 12:10 pm • Last Updated Jan 07 2014 01:15 pm

A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that trial evidence will prove that a Burmese refugee kidnapped, raped and killed a young girl at the South Salt Lake apartment complex where they both lived in March 2008.

Esar Met, 27, is charged in 3rd District Court with first-degree felony counts of child kidnapping and aggravated murder for the slaying of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo.

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But the defense claimed Met "loved kids" and hinted that someone else must have killed the girl.

Prosecutor Matthew Janzen began his opening statement by saying: "Today we are here to discuss the life of a girl named Hser Ner Moo."

"Hser Ner Moo was healthy and happy," Janzen told jurors. "She was excited for life and she went out to play, never to return."

Eleven jurors — comprised of eight jurors and three alternates — were chosen Monday to hear the three-week-long trial.

Hser Ner Moo girl disappeared on March 31, 2008, prompting hundreds of volunteers to search for her before police found her body in Met’s basement apartment the next night.

Her family lived in the same complex and the child was acquainted with Met, who had just arrived to the U.S. a month before the murder. He had no job, would stay home and played with kids in complex, according to Janzen.

Hser Ner Moo was found by police face down in Met’s shower, still in the pink shirt, pink skirt and pink coat she had wore the day before. Police have said the girl was likely dead within an hour of leaving her family’s nearby apartment.

"Evidence will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Esar Met killed Hser Ner Moo after he sexually assaulted and detained her," Janzen said.

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But defense attorney Michael Peterson said that "Esar Met loved kids. He played games with them, took them for bike rides, cooked food, gave them treats."

Peterson added that Met was "never inappropriate."

Peterson dismissed DNA evidence allegedly tying Met to the girl’s death as a product of the girl and Met playing games together.

Peterson said that when Met saw his uncle at 3 p.m. on the day Hser Ner Moo disappeared, Met seemed normal, calm and unsuspicious.

Peterson painted a picture of Met’s relationship with his four roommates as cold — influenced by their being from different ethnic groups.

The roommates "don’t go out and help" search for the missing girl, despite fact that they knew Hser Ner Moo’s family, Peterson said. And they didn’t ask Met if he had seen her.

Met’s four roommates were arrested April 1, 2008, but later released. Police said at the time that the four men were not home when the girl was killed and did not know her body was in Met’s basement bathroom.

On Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned each potential juror at length about their ability to remain objective and fair — presuming Met to be innocent unless proven guilty by the evidence presented at trial — in the face of the gruesome killing of such a young girl.

Several people admitted this would be a problem.

"Because it involves a child, that makes it a lot harder for me to presume he’s innocent," said juror number 36, a young mother with blond hair. "I have a 6-year-old at home. I think it would be very hard for me to see some of the evidence."

Of the 11 chosen to sit on the trial jury, a number said they have young children. Several recalled early reports of Hser Ner Moo’s disappearance — including one man, who said the search party knocked on his Sugar House door — but few followed the case in the years since.

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