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The case against a Burmese man accused of killing a young refugee girl more than three years ago in South Salt Lake suffered another setback Wednesday.
Esar Met, 23, was expected to waive his right to a preliminary hearing, clearing the way for a bench trial in the slaying of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo. Instead, Met surprised his own defense team by doing the opposite: asking for a preliminary hearing and a jury trial.
"I want a trial. I did not commit a crime," said Met, prompting a roughly hour-long private conversation with his attorneys.
Had Met chosen to forgo the hearing, prosecutors said they would have not sought the death penalty. Prosecutor Rob Parrish said that now remains a possibility.
"He's sent us all the way back to the beginning almost," Parrish said.
Wednesday's hearing was reminiscent of a May 2010 court hearing, where attorneys expected to reach a plea agreement until Met angrily denied his guilt.
Parrish said Wednesday that Met may need to undergo a competency evaluation before the case moves forward.
Met is charged with first-degree felony counts of aggravated murder and child kidnapping in the slaying of Hser Ner Moo, a Burmese refugee who lived in the same South Salt Lake apartment complex as Met in the spring of 2008.
The girl went missing March 31, 2008, prompting a wide-scale search by hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement. She was found the following day, beaten and raped, inside Met's apartment.
Language barriers and cultural differences have slowed Met's criminal proceedings, prosecutors have said.