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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Esar Met sits with defense team and listens to closing statements of the prosecution to the jury at his murder trial in Salt Lake City Friday January 17, 2014. Esar Met is accused of killing 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo, who disappeared on March 31, 2008
Utah jury finds Burmese refugee Esar Met guilty of murder
Verdict » Esar Met is found guilty of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Hser Ner Moo, 7, in 2008.
First Published Jan 17 2014 10:20 am • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 11:17 pm

He lured the child with games and treats. He made her laugh, helped her feel safe and welcome in the depths of his basement home.

But on March 31, 2008, a jury ruled Friday, kindness turned to violence as Esar Met sexually assaulted, beat and killed 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo.

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At a glance

Esar Met timeline

March 31, 2008

» 1:30 to 2 p.m.: Hser Ner Moo last seen by her family.

» 2:39 p.m.: The latest Esar Met could have left his South Salt Lake apartment to catch a bus to Cottonwood Heights, where he stayed the night at the home of his aunt and uncle.

» 3:30 to 4 p.m.: Esar Met arrives at his aunt and uncle’s home.

» 6:30 to 7 p.m.: Hser Ner Moo’s father, Cartoon Wah, knocks on the door of Esar Met’s apartment; Met’s four roommates said they hadn’t seen the girl.

» Evening: Hundreds of volunteers scour the area looking for the 7-year-old girl.

April 1, 2008:

» 4 a.m.: Detectives knock on the door of Apartment 472 , get no response.

» 7 p.m.: Hser Ner Moo’s body found in Esar Met’s basement apartment.

» 10 p.m.: Esar Met arrested at his aunt and uncle’s home.

A Missing Peace

Reporter Julia Lyon traveled to Thailand to trace the journeys of Hser Ner Moo and Esar Met from the Mae La refugee camp to Salt Lake City. Her series, reported in collaboration with the International Reporting Project, also explored the challenges their families and other refugees face in America. See the series at http://extras.sltrib.com/thailand.

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Jurors entered the courtroom Friday after more than five hours of deliberation looking haggard and spent. They had sat through nine days of testimony, 41 witnesses and more than two hours of closing arguments that morning.

Two female jurors held tissues at the ready. Their eyes looked as if they had already been crying.

In the gallery, packed with friends and family of the young victim, a tense silence filled the air, punctuated only by the quiet sobs of Pearlly Wa — the mother who lost her only daughter nearly six years ago.

Met was convicted of child kidnapping and aggravated murder, both first-degree felonies that could land the 27-year-old Burmese refugee in prison for the rest of his life.

For the victim’s family, Friday brought the long-awaited answer to a heartbreaking mystery. It brought justice and closure.

But it did little to ease their suffering.

"Still no more daughter," Hser Ner Moo’s father, Cartoon Wah, croaked in heavily accented English outside the courtroom, his eyes brimming with tears. "My only daughter is still no more."

Hser Ner Moo was last seen by her family on March 31, 2008. She was happy and healthy and wanted to go play.

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Her body was found the next day, crumpled, bloody and broken in the basement bathtub of Met’s South Salt Lake apartment.

Met, who shared the apartment with four other Burmese men, was arrested at a relative’s home in Cottonwood Heights. He had been in the country just one month, and would spend the next six years behind bars awaiting trial.

On March 26, prosecutors and defense attorneys will argue whether Met should get life without parole or 20 years to life in prison.

Sentencing by Judge Judith Atherton is set for May 7.

Defense attorneys argued Friday in 3rd District Court that their client was innocent — that he never laid hands on Hser Ner Moo and was not at home when the child was brutally slain.

"Esar got along with everyone; he was friendly," argued defense attorney Michael Peterson. "Esar played in a friendly manner with Hser Ner Moo. They played chase, they played tag. Esar helped her learn how to ride a bike around the complex. ... Mr. Met never acted inappropriate."

But prosecutors said it was this relationship that put Met in the perfect position to kill the child.

"None of [Met’s roommates] wanted to play with Hser Ner Moo, but the defendant did," prosecutor Matt Janzen said. "Who had the time to lure this girl into the basement? ... When you look at the relationships in this case, all we have is Esar Met alone in the basement with this little girl."

Despite the defense’s assertions that Met’s roommates or another unknown person may have been responsible for killing the girl and dumping her body in the basement of Apartment 472, whose doors were habitually unlocked, prosecutors urged jurors to use their common sense.

Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Robert Parrish asked jurors to follow the logic of how Esar Met had the opportunity and ability to kill Hser Ner Moo rather than rely on their imagination to wonder who else may have murdered the girl.

"Let’s talk about the truth, ladies and gentlemen," argued Parrish. "The truth is it makes no common sense that when the defendant left that afternoon Hser Ner Moo was still alive and well in the basement. ... Hser Ner Moo was dead."

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