Courts • Uncle of suspect in killing of 7-year-old Burmese girl testifies; gag order issued.
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On the day of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo's disappearance, Esar Met left his South Salt Lake apartment and made an unannounced visit to the Fort Union area home where his aunt and uncle lived.
Met played with his cousins, watched TV and spent the night. His uncle, Mar Mae Rar Phi, said the man never paced and did not appear nervous.
"He was my guest," Phi testified Friday during a 3rd District Court preliminary hearing. "I just tell him to be relaxed. He just walk around, watch TV, watch video. Nothing more than that."
Met stayed at the home the next day and was still there when Phi returned home from work.
That night, Met's friends called asking about the missing girl and if Met was at the house. The police were on their way they said.
Met was sitting down for dinner with his relatives when officers entered the home and arrested him.
"Esar never tried to leave when they said the police were on coming, did he?" defense attorney Denise Porter asked.
Met, 25, a Burmese refugee is charged with first-degree felony counts of aggravated murder and child kidnapping in connection with the girl's slaying. The seven-day hearing, set to end next week, will determine if there is enough evidence to order Met to stand trial.
According to prosecutors, Met beat, raped and strangled Hser Ner Moo in his apartment at the South Parc Townhomes, 2250 S. 500 East.
Hser Ner Moo's disappearance on March 31 eventually prompted hundreds of volunteers to search for the missing child before police found her body in Met's basement apartment the following night.
After searching for most of 24 hours, South Salt Lake Detective Darren Carr was told Hser Ner Moo's body had been found.
The girl was face down in Met's shower, still wearing the pink shirt, pink skirt and pink coat she was wearing when she disappeared the day before. Police have said the girl was likely dead within an hour of leaving the nearby apartment of her family.
Carr helped secure the crime scene and was then told to put together a team of officers to find and arrest Met.
Richard Deke Taylor was working for the Utah County Sheriff's Office at the time of Hser Ner Moo's death. As a member of Utah's Joint Criminal Apprehension Team, he was assigned to help in the search of South Parc and later in Met's arrest at the home of the man's aunt and uncle.
Taylor said he saw a man walk to a window, then turn and run inside. Taylor and his team broke down a back door and entered the house. In the kitchen, Taylor arrested Met at gunpoint.
An autopsy revealed Hser Ner Moo was clutching hair in her right hand similar to that of her accused killer. The autopsy also showed she had been beaten on the head, neck and torso. Some injuries were consistent with strangulation or suffocation.
Earlier Friday, Judge William Barrett issued a gag order in connection with the preliminary hearing prohibiting witnesses, attorneys, interpreters, victim advocates and court personnel from discussing the case with the media or public.
The judge's one-sentence order does not explain what prompted the gag order.
Court spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said that, in general, judges issue such orders when there is concern about information being released that could potentially prejudice a case.
Reporters covering the case believe the judge learned that on Thursday an ABC4 reporter interviewed the murder victim's father in the hallway with the help of a court interpreter.
Hser Ner Moo's parents had testified Thursday about events leading up to the disappearance of their daughter.
They said Hser Ner Moo started the last day of her life with noodle soup and fried eggs.
Then she danced and put on makeup.
"She thinks she's so pretty," said her father, Cartoon Wah.
Wah and two of his sons went to work that day on bicycles.
The girl's mother, Pearlly Wa, testified she left Hser Ner Moo with an aunt and uncle and left for an afternoon dental appointment.
"When I came back, I can't find my daughter," she said. "She was missing."
Sun Day Moo, the girl's older brother, said he was home at the time and fell asleep on the couch. When he awoke, his sister was gone.
The mother and later the father, searched around the South Salt Lake apartment complex for their missing daughter. A case worker called the police around 7 p.m. on March 31.
"That whole night I can't sleep," Wa said. "My heart is burning."
The next night, police told her of her daughter's death.
"Because of this loss, I thought I cry until I die," she said. "My heart, I cannot control my heart."
Wah testified that his wife "now has to take the depression pill or anxiety pill. I, myself, I'm always thinking about my little girl. ... Sometimes I cannot focus. I have to focus when I drive. Especially on the street, whenever I see this age of girl going to school or getting on the school bus, that really hurts my heart."
Wah called Hser Ner Moo a happy and beautiful little girl who was quickly learning English and loved to play the part of the teacher when she was with her friends.
She also loved church. "On Sunday morning she woke up and rushed to get to the church early so she can never be late to Sunday school," the father said.
Wah said his only daughter always waited for him to come home, hoping he would bring her a gift.
"Anytime I'm out at the store, I'm always thinking about her to bring her something, big or small," he said through an interpreter. "It's been missing."
On Wednesday, Met's roommates described a man who lived in the basement and rarely talked to them and never ate with the group. But in testimony Thursday, Met was described as a man who loved children.
"After my sister was released from school, he came and play with the kids because he loved kids," said Maung Then Htank, who knew Met in a refugee camp and lived in the same South Salt Lake apartment complex the South Parc Townhomes as Hser Ner Moo's family.
Met would act like an elephant and let Htank's sister, Nane We, and Hser Ner Moo ride on his back.
Nane We, now 14, said she and Hser Ner Moo also jumped rope with Met and on three occasions went to his apartment to watch movies with him.
On the morning of her disappearance, Hser Ner Moo went to Nane We's apartment to see if she wanted to play but she was asleep. Later, Htank called his friend Met to ask if he knew were the missing girl was.
"Did you take the kid with you? If you did, bring her back," Htank recalled saying. "He said he didn't."
On Wednesday, in other testimony from Met's roommates, who lived upstairs, they said they rarely saw Met or talked to him.
Met had only moved into the apartment with the other four men about two weeks earlier, they said. Met was a refugee, but unlike the other men he was Burmese, not Karen.
"I was so shocked," Po Dee, Ku Nu's brother, said of learning that the child had been killed in his apartment.
The girl's family, as well as her alleged killer, are Burmese refugees.
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.