SALT LAKE CITY – A Burmese refugee convicted of killing a 7-year-old girl from his Utah neighborhood has been sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
Esar Met, 27, maintained his innocence Wednesday at the sentencing hearing.
"I'm telling the truth that I didn't kill the girl," Met told 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton, referring to neighbor girl Hser Ner Moo. "That's all I have to say."
A jury earlier this year found him guilty of child kidnapping and aggravated murder.
DNA evidence showed Met kidnapped, raped and killed Hser Ner Moo in 2008, authorities said. He left her tiny body inside the South Salt Lake apartment he shared with four other Burmese men, they said.
Met had been in the U.S. just a month.
His attorney, Michael Peterson, has said the death was the result of innocent play with the girl in his basement.
Met contends he was visiting his aunt and uncle's home at the time Hser Ner Moo was killed.
"This girl is a girl I used to play with," he said. That girl loved me and I loved her."
Met, 27, faced two possible outcomes: life without the possibility of parole, or 20 years to life in prison.
Authorities said he lured the child into his basement home, sexually assaulting and beating her to death.
Atherton said Met "groomed" Hser Ner Moo to be his victim by playing with her and other children at the apartment complex where they lived.
"My greatest concern," the judge said, "is Mr. Met has not expressed any responsibility."
The judge said she feared Met could kill again if released, the Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1juqRdq).
Also during the hearing, the mother of slain Hser Ner Moo called for harsh punishment for the convicted Met.
"He did this to my daughter; he needs to be punished," Pearlly Wa said. "I'm really suffering."
The girl's father, Cartoon Wah, said, "I feel like I've lost everything."
Prosecutor Robert Parrish asked the judge to impose life without parole, citing lack of remorse from Met. Parrish said 21 blows to the child's body and signs of strangulation show he intended to kill her.
Parrish has called it a sexual assault that escalated into a killing when the girl tried to run away.
Defense attorney Denise Porter on Wednesday said "everyone here wishes there was something we could do to bring her back."
Met was convicted by eight jurors after nine days of at times gruesome testimony, over 40 witnesses and emotional closing arguments.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com