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SALT LAKE CITY — Although they needed interpreters for their words, the tears of the parents of Hser Ner Moo didn't need any translation.
Both took the witness stand Wednesday during the second day of the trial of Esar Met, who is charged with murdering their 7-year-old daughter. Their testimony was at times full of emotion that was understood by everyone in the courtroom, even if there was a language barrier in delivering their words.
A somber Cartoon Wah — often with his head bowed and his chin in his chest, occasionally wiping away tears with a tissue — was the first to tell jurors about his young daughter.
"I have lost many things in my life, but this is the biggest thing. She was my only daughter. Everybody around her loved her," he said.
Met, 26, is charged with aggravated murder and child kidnapping, first-degree felonies, in the March 31, 2008, death of the Myanmarese refugee girl. She lived in the same neighborhood and was found dead in the shower stall inside Met's basement apartment.
As Hser's family members testified Wednesday, Met's defense attorneys continued to try and raise suspicions about the behavior of Met's four roommates by pointing out what they did, and didn't do, when the girl went missing. They also raised issues of cultural differences among the Myanmarese refugees, and how the Karen-speaking family members of Hser Ner Moo as well as Met's own roommates would never associate with people like Met.
Also Wednesday, prosecutors tried to establish that Hser was healthy and did not have any cuts or bruises prior to her body being found. They also tried to establish that she was a frequent hand washer, as the defense is expected to raise questions about how and when Met's DNA got under the young girl's fingernails, and how small drops of her blood got on his jacket.
Hser's mother, Pearlly Wa, often had to pause to collect herself when she took the stand, as she buried her face in the palms of her hands and used tissues to dry her eyes.
"I want to tell you and the court that it is the biggest loss in my life," she said. "Now when I see the little girls run around … it breaks my heart."
Wa told the court how she had been with her daughter the morning of March 31 but then had to leave for a dentist appointment. When she came back home, Hser was gone.
"And I was looking for her, I was looking around, and nobody saw her," she said. "When late in the evening I did not see her, I thought. 'This is something bad.'"
Her fears were confirmed the next night when South Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Snyder told her they had found her daughter's body.
Pearlly Wa described Hser as smart and said she was very loved in the family. "She has a unique gift. She loved God, and she loved others," she said.
Anytime Hser was hurt or needed help, "She would always call me and I would take care of her," her mother said.
She said Hser had not come home recently with blood on her from an injury, such as a bloody nose. Prosecutors were trying to establish that blood later found on Met's jacket could not have come from a "horse playing" incident prior to her death, as defense attorneys have alleged.
Cartoon Wah said he went to work that morning after fixing his daughter breakfast, and returned to discover that she was missing.
I want to tell you and the court that it is the biggest loss in my life. Now when I see the little girls run around it breaks my heart.
"(My wife) said. 'We lost our daughter,'" Wah said. "I was very worried because she was young."
Wah said his daughter was never late and always came home when she was supposed to. "She always worried about being late for school. She always reminded me to go to work," he said. "She doesn't want to be late because in this country people respect time."
An interpreter was also used to translate attorneys' questions to Hser's three brothers who also testified Wednesday. A separate interpreter sat next to Met to tell him what was being said.
Even with an interpreter, the flow of the questioning was often slowed because of the language barrier. Cartoon Wah, who was on the witness stand for 90 minutes, didn't seem to understand some of the questions, even when delivered in his own language.
Most of Hser's family said they had never heard of Met before their daughter disappeared and had no idea he was living in a nearby basement where four friends lived upstairs. Only Hser's oldest brother said he had seen Met once but had never spoken to him. None of the family members said they were aware that Hser and Met would occasionally play together.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Denise Porter tried to raise questions about the behaviors of Met's four roommates, noting that they didn't really help search for Hser when they found out she was missing.
"They just went back to eating and watching their movie," she said.
She also noted that they never answered their door when police were first searching the area, despite loud knocking, calling out and flashlights being illuminated into their apartment. When the FBI went to the apartment the next day, it still took them 5 to 10 minutes to open the door.
The trial is scheduled to run for three weeks.
Contributing: Haley Smith and Sandra Yi