Adjusting evidence is very common in the United States.
In this case it was done several ways to switch the prosecution focus from one of the roommates, who forensic evidence suggested was the killer, to Esar Met who had been pressured and tricked into giving a false confession.
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This includes the evidence used at trial plus additional evidence. This is not comprehensive and more material is being added. This page was written before the audio files became available, those files add substantially more information and will be added eventually. Those files are available on other pages.
A basic list of evidence in the case.
1) DNA from one of the roommates was found mixed with Hser Ner Moo's blood on several spots on one wall of the basement. The public was told there was just one spot.
The prosecution said the roommate's DNA could have come from spitting betel nut saliva previously at the exact spot where the killer deposited some of her blood. The downstairs walls have about 500 square feet of area. There are blood stains on only a few inches of that area. There are 144 square inches per square foot. The chances of two unrelated stains overlapping is very roughly one in 4000. The chances of that happening several times are infinitesimal.
Much worse than that though, the media never reported that the actual DNA evidence excluded Esar Met and pointed to that roommate.
2) DNA from hair Hser Ner Moo was clutching. Hair was found on Hser Ner Moo's left wrist and she was clutching hair in her right hand. This hair was sent to the FBI where it disappeared. This evidence was not used at trial.
3) When Hser Ner Moo's fingernails were tested for DNA, one had no DNA and the other had DNA that could not be identified as belonging to Esar Met. Five years after the arrest that was still the case. Shortly before the trial the prosecutor arranged to have the material tested at a company with close ties to various law enforcement agencies, a company which had produced questionable evidence in the past, including another case involving a murdered girl of the same age, Rosie Tapia. This company found Esar Met's DNA, claiming it was part of a mixture of various DNA profiles. This evidence was used at trial, and the 'degree of certainty' was roughly 'one chance in a thousand' that it was not his DNA.
4) Esar Met owned only one jacket, a denim jacket. When he was arrested, and for a long time after, nobody saw any bloodstains on the jacket. In fact the jacket was initially stored in a paper bag until the prosecution realized they needed more DNA evidence. Long after the arrest, when prosecutors realized they did not have any useful DNA evidence, the jacket was tested and DNA from the victim was "found". The four tiny blood stains were deposited in a linear fashion and are not consistent with having come from a violent murder scene that flung blood all over. This evidence was used at trial.
5) The body was still wet when it was found, hair clothes and skin were all wet, along with water droplets on the sides of the shower stall.
a) The bathroom door and the furnace room door next to it were both slightly ajar when the body was found.
b) Esar Met said the jail was unusually cold, it probably would have been about 72 F degrees. He and his roommates are comfortable around 75 to 80 F degrees.
c) Once the body was found the outside door was left open quite a bit, and it was around 43 F degrees outside. There was no door between the upstairs and downstairs so the outside air chilled the downstairs to around 60 degrees. But up til 8pm when the body was found the downstairs temp had been over 70 F degrees.
6) The body was still stiff from rigor mortis at 530am on the day after it was found. The body had been in 70 to 75 F degree temperature until 8pm, then as cool as 60 to 65 degrees until 530am the next morning, then probably 65 to 70 degrees as it was autopsied. Smaller bodies go through rigor more quickly and it's likely she died between 10am and 4pm on the day she was found, guessing by common information available online. All of the people involved knew this was a big problem for police and prosecutors, so time of death was obscured through fuzzy testimony and shabby investigation.
7) Esar Met left Southpark no later than 239pm on the day she died, but probably in the morning, according to him and at least two other people, so appears to be excluded by rigor timeline and the fact that the body was washed long after he was gone.
8) There are signs the killer was 'making an example' of her or 'teaching her a lesson', for ethnic reasons since she was being friendly with somebody from a competing ethnic group. For most Burmese adults in the U.S. this kind of 'friendship', watching tv with an outsider, etc, would not be so serious, so the killer is probably an older more rural person.
9) The girl appears to have been injured for a while before the last attack which killed her quickly. If a person wanted to tie Esar Met to the crime, the only possibility is if she were injured before he left, then languished severely injured for a long time, then was finished off the next day by somebody else. Very unlikely.
Sorenson Forensics, the company which gave helped the FBI cover up their mistakes and gave an assist to the prosecution, was compensated indirectly with federal funds shortly after the conviction.
Hser Ner Moo was last seen at her apartment sometime after 2pm according to the initial report by the people who last saw her. This would have excluded Esar Met as the killer, so the time was later pushed back to "1:30 or 2:00". It's common for people who report a missing person to push the 'last seen' time back a little in order to add urgency, so it's possible the factual 'last seen' time was quite a bit later. Either way, this by itself excludes Esar Met as the killer.
The problem for the prosecutors was that they needed to push the time as far forward as possible because of the 'time of death' issue, while also pushing it as far back as possible because of the fact that Esar Met had left no later than 2:39 by the bus schedule.
When they were initially brought to the police station, the roommates gave a lot of conflicting information. This was further complicated by the fact that the translator for at least two of the interviews that night was a friend of some of the roommates. Among the statements they gave was that one of the roommates returned to the apartment at 4pm and the other three returned an hour later. At the trial these times were pushed forward a bit.
The prosecutor, and many others, would have been aware that the roommates initial statements had a lot of inconsistencies, including a discrepancy about when they returned to the apartment.
Esar Met seems to say during his interview that he did not lock the door when he left because he did not have a key. Another translator would have to clarify that.
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Yet the roommate that says he arrived at 4pm says the door was locked when he arrived. The implication is that one of the other roommates returned before 4pm, and at some point after returning, locked the door for some reason.
The body was found in the downstairs shower stall of Apartment 472. This was in the living area of Esar Met, but all of the residents of the apartment had access to the downstairs and used it to store things. There was no door between the upstairs where the roommates lived and the downstairs where the body was found. Just a stairway.
Esar Met had planned a visit to his uncle to fix a bicycle, and left the apartment no later than 2:37.
The search was a sh*tshow, and the investigation was even worse. Hser was known to have last visited apartment 472 but when the roommates would not answer the door a detective concluded the apartment was unoccupied, and noted that in his report. At least three times over a ~20 hour period the police banged on the door prior to that with no response.
The FBI clearly was managing the search and later managed the investigation, They appear to have kept their information to themselves and not shared necessary information with local police, including the fact that 472 was not unoccupied.
The FBI ultimately found the body and managed the interviews. The FBI agent who was conducting the interview left four times during the interview to consult with supervisors and others. Each time he returned with new notes and questions. It would have been clear to any competent investigator watching the interview that Esar Met's story about killing Hser was not true and that he was not the killer.
The biggest problem in the investigation was evidence that Hser had been alive quite a bit longer than the public was told. She was probably severely injured for some time, then was killed when it was decided to stage her disappearance as a sex crime.
A medical examiner's initial opinion was that she had been stabbed in the genitals in an unusually violent way with an object. The medical examiner conveyed this to a police officer and told him the police might want to look for that object. The police officer did not fully understand the implications and relayed a slightly distorted message to his supervisor. At this point the local police believed it to be a sex crime but some among the FBI, which has a bit more experience with that kind of crime, recognized that the crime did not have a sexual motive. An expert testified at trial to that effect, but the testimony was somewhat muted i.e., nobody explained explicitly why that injury evidence pointed away from the picture police had painted of the crime, and instead implicated one of the roommates.
The interview itself is a classic textbook false confession using the Reid Technique. The specific maneuver that got him to confess was offering him a choice between accidentally killing the victim or planning it. He was asked if he wanted people to think it was a planned murder or if he wanted them to think it was an accident. Each time he protested that he was not the murderer he would be menaced by the FBI agent or detective.
His understanding or rationale seems to be that because her body was in his shower he is responsible for the death, and his 'confession' is a formality in America even though it was not a factual confession. Before the confession starts he mentions that at an orientation he was told that children are important in America. He then seems to use the events of that evening, an aggressive arrest, and his suddenly learning that a neighbor child is dead, to guesstimate what the U.S. legal system requires i.e., a believable confession.
Throughout the confession the FBI agent feeds details deliberately to him so he can flesh out the confession, but Esar Met continually gets the context of the details wrong. The FBI agent seems to be putting on a show, pretending that he has the right person despite a constant stream of evidence that Esar Met is not the killer. The people giving the FBI agent questions to ask also certainly realize they have arrested the wrong person, and an outsider should wonder how many people that group of FBI agents has done this to.
When Esar Met was first arrested, the public was told that evidence against him consisted of a confession, some hairs found on the victim, and a footprint. a) When the forensic investigator examined the footprint it was not identifiable as having come from Esar Met. The first public observation by an expert was that it could have "possibly" come from him. b) the hairs were sent to the FBI and elsewhere, where they disappeared. c) The confession strongly indicates Esar Met is not the killer.
Some time after the arrest, more evidence arrived. The material under the victim's fingernails did have male DNA, but none of it could be identified as Esar Met's DNA.
There was also DNA at the crime scene, but that was from one of the roommates, so police appear to have asked the forensic technician to speculate that it could have come from spitting betel nut. At that time, betel nut was a challenge for honest forensic technicians, because it degrades DNA rapidly. It was not a challenge for those technicians involved in this case, mysteriously.
The real shocker though was that evidence strongly suggests Hser was alive long after 3pm on the day she disappeared. This precludes Esar Met as being the killer, but it also would have forced an investigation of the initial search, if it had become public. And that investigation would have forced a reinvestigation of the Destiny Norton search and investigation, on and on.
The FBI cleverly did a few things to protect itself in case things blew up, including a very calculated effort to transfer past authority in the investigation to the local police. There is an abundance of evidence in the police report demonstrating the clumsy effort by the FBI to make sure that if a scandal hit it would focus on local authorities mainly. Local police wrote things that clearly shifted events to appear as though they had been under the direction of SSLPD when in fact they were under the direction of the FBI. Some of the perjury that occurred at trial falls in this category and did not occur without some input from the FBI.
So to recap the last five paragraphs, by September 2008 the police, FBI and prosecutor realized they had literally no evidence against Esar Met, quite a bit of evidence against one of the roommates, but the higher level local and FBI people were prevented from fixing things because they knew the truth would cost them their jobs. The police chief resigned abruptly just as the trial was starting. Nobody at the FBI has paid a price yet. In fact the only person who has faced any punishment so far is Esar Met, who is still in prison, going on his 12th year there.
At this point, mid to late 2008, they needed either a) evidence or b) a guilty plea. All levels of the justice system in Utah at that point, from local police to the FBI, had a stake in getting a quiet guilty plea, just as they did in the Destiny Norton murder, another little girl murdered just 15 blocks or so from where Hser was murdered.
Esar Met had been proclaiming his innocence, saying that the confession used a clever maneuver i.e., the Reid Technique, to get a false confession. But nobody knew what he was saying of course. Media in Utah carefully avoided interviewing him and the police had complete control of his environment.
One time when he was brought to court he began yelling that he was not guilty. The judge and his lawyer believed the 'outburst' was not going to be translated in open court, so the judge banned or 'excused' him from further court appearances and gave his 'defense' more time to force a guilty plea. His lawyer gave a story about him wanting to see his family before pleading guilty. Of course the lawyer would not have made up that story if he knew the 'outburst' would be translated and published in several papers.
But it was. Now the public had a tiny clue that there might be issues with the confession, but still almost nobody suspected the truth.
After the trial, Sorenson, the company that had handled the DNA tests that were inconsistent with earlier DNA tests, received a strangely huge grant from a distant District Attorney, along with tens of millions of dollars in matching federal funds.
~ In Progress