SALT LAKE CITY — A preliminary hearing for a Burmese refugee accused in the slaying of a 7-year-old girl was continued Monday.
This is the fourth time such a hearing had been set in the case of Esar Met, 25, since he was charged in the 2008 death of Hser Ner Moo. Evidence was prepared and witnesses and family members for both Met and Moo were present when the matter was again continued, this time due to problems with interpreters.
"I want to apologize to everyone who is here," 3rd District Judge William Barrett said after announcing that the hearing would again be continued. "(We need to) see if we can work something out so Mr. Met's constitutional rights aren't violated and this preliminary hearing is done in the right way."
Two interpreters had been flown out from California in advance of what was to be a week-long preliminary hearing. But after giving an in-court test to the interpreters, defense attorneys voiced concerns.
They argued that the translations were inconsistent and not adequate.
"Mr. Met is entitled to a full and accurate translation of the hearing against him at all stages," attorney Denise Porter said. "Failure to provide that deprives him of his right to due process under both state and federal constitutions."
The judge called both defense attorneys and prosecutors into his chambers before announcing the decision to continue the hearing. He asked court clerks to verify that this was the fourth preliminary hearing to be scheduled and continued.
"This is a serious, serious case," Barrett said. "There's a lot on the line."
Met is facing charges of aggravated murder and child kidnapping, both first-degree felonies. Prosecutors have 60 days after Met is arraigned to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.
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.
A refugee from Myanmar, Met has struggled to understand the court proceedings and there have been difficulties finding interpreters for the man. Moo's family also requires interpreters, as they speak Karen.
"I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a case in Utah that involves this many different culture issues and languages," Prosecutor Rob Parrish said Monday.
The prosecutor said he is unsure how the case will proceed given the dearth of interpreters, but said he, too, had concerns about the adequacy of the translation. He said his office will work with the courts and consider an international search to find a qualified interpreter.
Parrish said there have been multiple resolutions in the case that have fallen through and it has been "very frustrating" for prosecutors as well as the girl's family, who were prepared to testify Monday.
"It's been difficult," Parrish said. "Every time we've been close to resolving the case, every time we thought we were done, it's been really difficult for them. And I'm sure this is not going to be any easier today because they really wanted to get this done."
Cartoon Wah, Moo's father, was emotional after the hearing. Tears streaming down his face, he talked about wanting to see a fair trial.
"I'm really frustrated and upset with what's happening," he said, reaching skyward. "Even if I ask to God, I can't get her back."
A scheduling conference has been set in the case for July 2.