Officers describe 'horror scene' as trial of man accused of killing 7-year-old begins
SALT LAKE CITY — Paramedic Andrew Maurer well remembers being led into a South Salt Lake basement where the body of 7-year-old missing girl had just been found.
"It was spooky that night," he testified Tuesday, noting the dark basement and all the flashes going off from police investigators taking pictures. "It just looked like a horror scene to me."
Maurer was one of 10 people who testified on the first day of the murder trial of Esar Met, which began nearly six years after the body of young Hser Ner Moo was found in Met's basement bathroom.
Met, 26, is charged with aggravated murder and child kidnapping, first-degree felonies, in the March 31, 2008, death of the Burmese refugee girl. Her disappearance sparked a wide search effort, leading to the discovery of her body the next day.
Maurer and former South Salt Lake Fire Capt. Paul Rasmussen were called by police to the basement of Met's apartment to confirm what detectives already suspected, that the little girl was dead.
"I observed a body that was in the bottom of a shower area. I was taken back by what I saw," Rasmussen testified. "She had a lot of blood all over her."
Hser's hair was matted with blood. Rasmussen bent down to touch her skin and try to move her leg, and found she was "very, very cold." Rigor mortis had already set in.
"I saw the girl in the bottom of the shower stall, curled up, face down, her head was away from us," Maurer testified. "I could see that (her left arm) was bent back, broken."
The testimony of the paramedics describing the gruesome crime scene was accompanied by graphic photos that were shown to the jury.
Prosecutor Matthew Janzen told the six-woman, five-man jury during his opening statements that over the next three weeks, they would hear from people who knew Met, medical professionals, and testimony about DNA evidence.
"That evidence will prove beyond a responsible doubt that this defendant killed Hser Ner Moo," Janzen said.
But defense attorney Michael Peterson countered during his opening remarks that while "there's no question that the death of Hser Ner Moo is tremendously sad, tremendously tragic, shocking," the evidence presented by the state is circumstantial.
"This is not a case of an eyewitness," Peterson said.
He asked the jury to keep an open mind and not to let the emotional evidence that will be presented cloud their judgment. While the state will argue that Hser's blood was found on Met's jacket, and Met's DNA was found on her fingernails, the defense is expected to argue that the forensic evidence could have come during normal horseplay, as the two were known to play with each other.
Peterson also asked the jury to pay attention to Met's demeanor through the ordeal, which he called calm, and noted that the behaviors and demeanors of Met's four roommates should also be taken into consideration.
All witnesses called to the stand Tuesday were law enforcers or paramedics. Former South Salt Lake police officer Jacob Burton was the most emotional on the stand, wiping away tears as he recalled meeting with Hser's mother for the first time, who was crying and asking for help finding her missing daughter. He said he knew right away this case was different.
"I responded to a fair amount of calls similar to this in my career," he said. "Call it a gut feeling, call it a mother's reaction, it wasn't just a normal missing child that hadn't returned from school."
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