AUSTIN, Texas -- A jury on Friday found defendant Meechaiel Criner guilty in the capital murder trial connected to the 2016 slaying of UT student Haruka Weiser.
On Wednesday, Criner took the stand himself and recounted his days as a homeless teenager on the streets of Austin.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Ariel Payan told the jury: “All of this evidence is circumstantial. Each of you must decide for yourself what reasonable doubt it.”
The state earlier told jurors that UT technicians looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video following the slaying that tied Criner to the homicide.
The state also mentioned Weiser’s damp, sandy clothes, which were located in an abandoned building, and how those items, along with the victim’s hair, connect Criner to the crime. The prosecutor said it was unreasonable to think that Criner’s only connection to the crime was "bad luck."
The prosecution spent the past two weeks trying to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Criner followed Haruka Weiser as she walked home from dance practice. They say he raped and strangled her on the UT campus in the city that her father says she loved so much.
"She loved being here. She met talented bright and motivated young people like herself who became her friends," said Thomas Weiser, the victim's father.
In all, hundreds of pieces of evidence were presented. In the end, it convinced the jury to bring back the guilty verdict.
"In a circumstantial case, you never know what piece of evidence the jury is going to focus on. Every piece of evidence is key," said Prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez.
After the verdict was read, Haruka's father addressed Criner directly.
"Not only were you caught and convicted for the terrible crimes you committed against her, but more importantly, you will never, ever do these things again," said Thomas Weiser.
Criner is sentenced to life in prison. He was under 18 years old when the slaying occurred, making him ineligible for the death penalty.
Procedural errors during the investigation caused DNA evidence to be tossed out. On April 3, 2016, Weiser was found deceased about 100 feet from her dorm room in Waller Creek.
Criner was taken into custody and charged with capital murder after he was found with a duffel bag containing Weiser’s belongings. He was also captured on surveillance video in the area at the time of the slaying.
An autopsy determined Weiser had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
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- Jury selection begins for slaying of UT student
- Trial begins for slaying of UT student
- Day 1 for trial of man accused of slaying UT student
- Day 2: Witnesses testify about evidence surrounding UT student slaying
- Day 3 of trial for man accused of UT student's murder