Hearing begins for suspect in murder of Burmese girl in Utah
Esar Met charged with killing 7-year-old whose body was found in his apartment's basement.
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The little girl wanted her photo taken, too.

After Maung Mye snapped a photograph of his friend and fellow refugee, Ker Ker, the little sister asked if he would take one of her. In it, she is wearing pink, her black hair hangs over her shoulder and her closed lips hide missing front teeth.

It's the photo police put on posters when 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo went missing in early spring of 2008. It's the photo that ran next to newspaper stories after the little girl was found dead.

On Wednesday in 3rd District Court, Mye and three other men testified about their other roommate, a refugee who had only just moved into the basement of their South Salt Lake apartment before being arrested and charged with killing Hser Ner Moo on March 31, 2008.

The seven-day preliminary hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to order 25-year-old Esar Met to stand trial on first-degree felony charges of aggravated murder and child kidnapping.

The roommates said they worked all day on March 31. They made dinner and watched TV, and then someone knocked on the door.

"He asked if we see his daughter," Ku Nu, who lived there with his brother, and two friends.

They had not. Nor had they seen Met.

Met had only moved into the apartment about two weeks earlier, the men said. Met was a refugee, but unlike the other men he was Burmese, not Karen. The men said they rarely saw him or talked to him.

Hundreds of volunteers searched for the missing child on April 1 before police found her in the men's basement. Met's defense attorneys questioned the roommates about whether they ever went into the basement, but only one said he ever did.

"I was so shocked," Po Dee, Ku Nu's brother, said of learning that the child had been killed in his apartment.

Hser Ner Moo went missing about 2 p.m. on March 31, 2008.

At 7 p.m. on April 1, FBI agents found the girl face down in Met's shower, still wearing the pink shirt, pink skirt and pink coat she was wearing the day before.

She was beaten, raped and strangled, according to charging documents.

Police have said the girl was dead within an hour of leaving the nearby apartment of her family.

An autopsy revealed she was clutching hair in her right hand similar to that of her accused killer. The autopsy also showed Hser Ner Moo had been beaten about the head, neck and torso. Some injuries were consistent with strangulation or suffocation.

The case against Met has been delayed numerous times as attorneys on both sides dealt with cultural and language barriers. Finding qualified interpreters also has been an issue.

Hser Ner Moo's parents are expected to testify Thursday as the hearing continues before Judge William Barrett.

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk