SALT LAKE CITY — Before he was sentenced Wednesday, the defense team for Esar Met pleaded with the judge for mercy and an "act of grace."
But 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton said what particularly disturbed her about the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008, was that he "has not expressed any responsibility."
"I believe that Mr. Met is extremely dangerous. I fear that another child would die as Hser Ner Moo did should Mr Met be released," Atherton said. "I'm hard pressed to give Mr. Met the benefit of a mitigating factor."
She then ordered Met, 26, to serve two concurrent sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Everybody helped my family. Everybody (took) care of my family. I say, 'Thank you so much. God Bless America," a pleased Pearlly Wa, Hser's mother, said in English outside the courtroom. "I feel much better because I know who did it. I'm so happy. I'm so excited. I'm so glad the police got him."
Cartoon Wah, Hser's father, also thanked all those who helped his family achieve justice, and said a few words quietly in English outside the courtroom.
"I feel better. The guy killed my daughter," he said. "I love my daughter."
Met's attorneys and family members left the courthouse without comment. His mother appeared to be wiping away tears. Met's family members did not have the benefit of having headphones in the courtroom so they could listen to interpreters describe what was going on as it happened. The family had to be told after the hearing was over that their son was going to prison, according to a friend of the family.
Met addressed the court prior to being sentenced, and denied having anything to do with the little girl's death.
"I didn't kill this girl," Met repeated several times. "At the time the girl was dead in the apartment, I wasn't there. ... This is a girl I used to play with. I loved her and she loved me.
"I didn't kill that girl. I don't know who killed that girl," he said.
Met, using an interpreter, said he did not understand the laws of this country and did not trust the police when they questioned him, so he gave them answers he thought they wanted to hear. He said he was afraid that he would be tortured or killed by police if he didn't tell them what they wanted to hear.
Both Met and Hser's family came to America from refugee camps in Myanmar. Met had been in Utah for just 30 days when he murdered Hser.
Cultural differences played a huge part of the Met trial. The extreme language barrier was one of the reasons the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office opted not to seek the death penalty. Interpreters for both Met's family and Hser's family — at times difficult to find — had to be used throughout the proceedings.
Ultimately, a jury in January found him guilty of aggravated murder and kidnapping, first-degree felonies, in the death of the Myanmarese refugee girl.
In pleading with Atherton to sentence her client to 20-years-to-life with the possibility of parole one day, defense attorney Denise Porter said those cultural differences also prevented Met from not only being open with attorneys, but from also admitting any ounce of guilt.
"I genuinely believe, Judge, that every time he gets in that transport van, there's a part of him that believes he won't come back," Porter said, addressing the trust issues Met has due to the abuse suffered in the refugee camps.
Porter admitted that she "cringed" when she saw the pre-sentencing report that indicated her client showed no remorse. But she attributed that in part to the cultural differences. Porter said she knew her client was going to prison, but wanted Atherton to give him "a light at the end of a decade's long tunnel."
"Two thousand two hundred twenty-six days later, this case will come to a close. "He starts going to prison today," Porter said. "The majority of Esar's adult life will be behind bars, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story."
But a tearful Wa pleaded with Atherton to give him the maximum penalty, saying her family has waited six long years for justice.
"Everybody dies some day. But the way my daughter died was very unfair," Hser's mother said. "It's something I can never forget in my life."
Both of Hser's parents referred to many hardships the family has suffered since the murder.
"Our family never has the same peace as before," Pearlly Wa said.
She said her daughter's death has even made her question her decision to leave the refugee camps. "If I hadn't come to this country, maybe my daughter would still be alive," she said.
"I have been waiting for this justice for six years, now is the time you will judge him as he deserves," Wa told Atherton in conclusion.
Five members of Hser's family ultimately urged the judge to give them justice. Cartoon Wah said he used to sing to his daughter. Now he can't sing at all because it reminds him of Hser.
"Now, instead of singing, I cry," he said through an interpreter. "Now my life is not stable anymore. My family always argues."
One of Hser's brothers asked Atherton if there is a death penalty in this country. She explained that there is, but said it was not an option in this case. The brother went on to say that he's bothered that Met gets to live when his sister doesn't.
"Why does he stay in this world?" he said through an interpreter. "I don't want to see him alive in this world."
Hser's other brother then addressed Atherton and showed her the tattoo he got on his forearm in memory of his young sister.
"I don't want to look at him," the brother said emotionally while pointed at Met.
He then asked the judge if "there's a life in heaven," apparently asking if he'll see his sister again. Atherton said she couldn't answer that.
Salt Lake County deputy district attorney Robert Parrish asked the judge to sentence Met to the maximum penalty, noting that it was a heinous crime — Parrish counted 21 "clear" blows to Hser's body — and that Met has not accepted any responsibility.
"There's really nothing here to rehabilitate," he said.