AUSTIN, Texas – The trial has officially begun for the 20-year-old accused of killing a University of Texas student, Haruka Weiser, in 2016.
Weiser was killed on April 3, 2016, while walking home from dance practice. She was found strangled and sexually assaulted 100 feet away from her dorm room on campus. After two days of jury selection, opening arguments began on Wednesday.
The suspect, Meechaiel Criner, is on trial for capital murder. Most of the case pivots on the evidence found in Criner’s possession when he was captured, including Weiser’s duffel bag.
Weiser's father, Thomas Weiser, was the first witness to take the stand on Wednesday. He confirmed that the items found in Criner’s possession did belong to his daughter, including a book he gave her.
The courtroom also heard testimony from several of Weiser’s friends, who spoke fondly of her. They saw and talked to her on the evening of April 3 and recalled what Weiser waswearing: black tights, a black turtle beck, black boots.
They also said Weiser was carrying a blue and red duffel bag, a silver MacBook laptop, and a Calculus book. Prosecutors said her clothes and belongings were found in several places Criner happened to be staying during the time of his arrest.
Prosecutors also spent a few hours questioning law enforcement officers from the University of Teas at Austin Police Department and Austin Police Department about their investigation. APD Homicide Detective Ray Tynes said processing the crime scene took up to 11 hours. While questioning Tynes, the prosecution presented photos from the crime scene, as well as Weiser’s bruise and bloodied naked body.
Darla Davis represents Criner. She said he grew up in and out of Child Protective Services and ran away from his foster home in Killeen in March 2016. David said Criner was in Austin living on the streets and scavenging. She said while Weiser’s death was horrific, she said it does not mean Criner was there during the time of her murder.
Criner was arrested after he was captured on surveillance video near Waller Creek where Weiser’s body was discovered. If Criner is convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in prison. State law prevents people convicted of capital murder from being sentenced to death if they are under the age of 18. Criner was 17 years old when Weiser was killed.
The State’s prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez said Weiser was an accomplished dancer and student, who had ambitions to be a doctor. She part of production company at the Winship Drama Building on UT's campus.
Earlier this month, Criner's lawyers tried to reduce his possible sentence to five to 99 years in prison, but they were denied by the judge. Criner faced more than 75 potential jurors on Monday as attorneys questioned them for more than eight hours.
State prosecutors said that after tossing out DNA evidence because of procedural errors, the trial should only take two weeks. More witnesses are expected to take the stand in the following days.