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SALT LAKE CITY — A preliminary hearing for a Burmese refugee accused of killing a 7-year-old girl finally began Wednesday, more than four years after her death.
It was the fifth time the hearing had been scheduled in the case against Esar Met, 25, after translation issues caused repeated delays.
Met is charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, and child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, in the 2008 death of Hser Ner Moo.
Maung Mye testified Wednesday that he lived with Met in 2008 at the South Parc Apartments, where Met had been placed by an agency that helps refugees. Mye said he did not speak Burmese and could not talk to the man.
He and three roommates lived upstairs and Met lived in the basement of the apartment. The night of March 31, 2008, Mye said all of the roommates except for Met ate dinner and watched TV before Moo's father, Cartoon Wah, came to their apartment.
"He said, 'Did you see my daughter?'" Mye testified. "I said, 'I didn't see her.'"
The next night, Mye said the police came by and took him and his three roommates to the police station. Met was not with them. He said police took photographs and fingerprints.
"They asked me all these questions," Mye recalled. "Eventually, police explained to me that someone had died in my basement."
- March 31, 2008: 7-year-old Hser Nay Moo was killed after a struggle in the apartment of Esar Met. The man was arrested in connection with the crime.
- April 10, 2008: Met made his first court appearance, via video. He was being charged with child kidnapping and aggravated murder.
- May 21, 2010: Met shocked people by pleading innocent to the crime. At one point, he disrupted proceedings by yelling loudly in his native language. The hearing was halted and rescheduled.
- Dec. 7, 2011: Prosecutors said they had concerns about Met's competency and ability to stand trial after he seemed to struggle to understand what was going on with the trial.
- May 4, 2012: Questions over Met's age made him ineligible for the death penalty.
- June 11, 2012: Met's hearing was delayed again because of translation problems.
- Nov. 7, 2012: Met's hearing began. It was the fifth time the hearing had been scheduled.
He said he knew Hser and her family. He was a friend of her brother and had once taken the young girl's picture. It was the same photo police used to try and find the girl earlier.
"The whole family — her parents, her brothers — they were all my friends," Mye said.
He identified Met in court as the man who lived in the basement of the apartment.
The girl apparently walked away from her South Salt Lake apartment on March 31, 2008. Her body was found the next day in the bathroom of Met's basement apartment. Authorities believe the child was raped, strangled and beaten to death the afternoon she disappeared.
Mye and former roommate Ku Nu both testified they stayed away from the basement because it was "cold." Nu said the bathroom didn't "work correctly."
A refugee from Myanmar, Met has struggled to understand the court proceedings and there have been difficulties finding interpreters for the man. A hearing set for June was canceled amid concerns about the interpreters, who were flown in from California.
Wednesday's proceedings included a Karen interpreter for the witnesses and a Burmese interpreter for Met.
The hearing is expected to go through Nov. 16, at which time Judge William Barrett will determine whether he's heard enough evidence to order Met to stand trial on the charges against him.