A Burmese refugee charged in the 2008 kidnapping and murder of a young refugee girl has been ordered to stand trial.
Esar Met, 25, faces two first-degree felony counts including an aggravated murder charge that carries the potential for death in connection with the slaying of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo, a fellow refugee who lived in the same South Salt Lake apartment complex.
Third District Judge William Barrett's ruling Thursday came at the end of a six-day preliminary hearing that included testimony from the girl's parents and Met's roommates. The order marks a major milestone in a protracted legal battle that has been complicated by cultural and language barriers.
Before Barrett's ruling, defense attorney Michael Peterson argued for the dismissal of the kidnapping charge against Met, saying prosecutors' circumstantial case provided nothing more than "guesswork" about how long the child was held.
Prosecutor Rob Parrish disagreed.
"We have five separate types of trauma that he inflicted on this helpless little girl. That takes time," the prosecutor said in court. "Only he knows how long this took."
Thursday, FBI agents testified about searching Met's apartment the night of April 1, 2008, at the South Parc Townhomes, 2250 S. 500 East. 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. The spatter on the wall, particularly, raised concerns for Olson.
"It kind of sealed the deal for me that this was not only blood but the place where the victim was either beaten or killed," he testified.
When Olson left to notify a sergeant, Lamadrid searched a basement bathroom, and saw the girl's foot sticking out of a shower.
Lamadrid said he called Hser Ner Moo's name but heard no response. He shined a flashlight on her back, hoping to see the rise and fall of breath, but saw none.
A South Salt Lake Fire crew arrived to declare the child's death. Paramedic Andrew Mauerer said he and a partner walked down stairs and saw the flash of an investigator's camera in the darkened bathroom.
"Honestly it was spooky," he said. "It was, to me, a horror scene."
Maurer said the girl was cold and not breathing. Paramedics made no attempt to resuscitate her.
Met's four roommates testified that only Met used the basement of the apartment. And the FBI agents said none of the roommates seemed concerned when they consented to a search of their apartment.
According to testimony earlier in the hearing from police and medical experts, Met beat, raped and strangled Hser Ner Moo. Among the evidence prosecutors have presented is 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, 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.
Since charges were filed against Met in 2008, the case has suffered a number of setbacks. On multiple occasions, Met's attorneys have said they had reached a resolution in the case, only to have Met change his mind in court.
Earlier this year, a judge canceled a preliminary hearing after a day of testimony because of concerns about the quality of the interpreters being used.
Hser Ner Moo's family sat through five of the six days of testimony over the last two weeks, often wiping away tears as witnesses described the events surrounding their only daughter's death.
Met is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 7 before Judge Judith Atherton.