SALT LAKE CITY — The four men who lived with Esar Met knew little about him.
He lived in the basement where the roommates all said they rarely, if ever, went. He spoke Burmese while they all spoke Karen. They referred to him as Kalar or Samad or Mohammed and, sometimes, Esar Met. He didn't work while the rest of them did and he did not eat or watch movies with them.
But they all knew 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo and her family.
"The whole family — her parents, her brothers — they were all my friends," Maung Mye testified Wednesday in 3rd District Court.
Once the young girl asked him to take her picture. He said he didn't know the same photograph was the one used by police when the young girl went missing.
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.
Met, 25, is charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, and child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, in connection with her death. Wednesday was the first day of a scheduled seven-day hearing when prosecutors are presenting evidence against the man.
It was the fifth time the preliminary hearing had been scheduled in the case after translation issues caused repeated delays. When the hearing is finished, Judge William Barrett will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to order Met to stand trial on the charges.
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.
The night of March 31, 2008, Mye said all of the roommates except for Met ate dinner and watched TV before Hser'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."
He identified Met in court as the man who lived in the basement of the apartment, as did former roommates Myint Kyi and Po Dee. Ku Nu identified Met in a photograph, but did not identify the man he called "Mohammed" in court.
Mye and Nu both testified they stayed away from the basement because it was "cold." Nu said the bathroom didn't "work correctly."
"There's no reason I had to go (down there)," Dee testified. "There was no lights, no heater."
Dee also remembered Hser's father coming to the home and asking about his daughter. He said police searched the home and told the roommates who were home, which was everyone except for Met, to "stay right here."
It wasn't until they were at the police station that he understood what had happened.
"Eventually, police told me that in (the) basement, the little girl died in there," Dee said. "I was shocked. I had no idea."
"Did you ever do anything to harm this little girl?" prosecutor Rob Parrish asked.
"No way," Dee said.
Nearly an identical exchange took place with all the other roommates.
Kyi said Hser was allowed to come and go into the apartment and that once or twice she came by and he played with her.
"I cared for her as my little sister," Kyi said.
He said this was "way before Esar moved in" and he never saw Met playing with the little girl. The roommates also testified that they did not remember seeing Met or personally going into the basement on March 31, 2008, or April 1, 2008.
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 girl's parents are expected to take the witness stand Thursday.
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