UT stu­dent warned about dimly lit path

De­fense says Criner else­where in Austin on night of Weiser’s death.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Au­tullo rautullo@states­man.com

Be­fore her vi­o­lent death on April 3, 2016, Univer­sity of Texas stu­dent Haruka Weiser had been re­peat­edly warned against tak­ing the short­cut to Prather Hall Dor­mi­tory along Waller Creek.

Her fa­ther took one look at the dimly lit area and ad­vised the old­est of his three chil­dren to find a bet­ter route. Her room­mate told Weiser to avoid the “creepy” strip of land be­hind the univer­sity’s alumni cen­ter.

But Weiser, an 18-year-old from Port­land, Ore., who en­joyed va­ca­tion­ing outdoors with her fam­ily, liked the calm­ness in those 10-minute walks from the Win­ship Drama Build­ing.

“She thought it was pleas­ant,” said her room­mate, Sylvia Feghali.

Prose­cu­tors said Weiser was not car­ry­ing her pep­per spray when, at 9:38 p.m. on that Sun­day, she en­coun­tered Meechaiel Criner, the foster care ru­n­away who is ac­cused of killing her and com­mit­ting the first homi­cide on cam­pus since the 1966 UT Tower shoot­ing.

Criner, wear­ing a dark blue suit with a light blue shirt, en­tered a Travis County court­room Wed­nes­day for the open­ing day of the ev­i­dence por­tion of his trial and pleaded not guilty. He was else­where in Austin when Weiser, a the­atre and dance ma­jor, was stran­gled and sex­u­ally as­saulted, his lawyer said.

But lead pros­e­cu­tor Guillermo Gon­za­lez said the ev­i­dence against the 20-year-old Criner is solid, point­ing to many items his team believes be­longed to Weiser that were dis­cov­ered by de­tec­tives in two Austin lo­ca­tions where Criner

had been stay­ing. Among them were black Doc Martens boots, black tights and a black turtle­neck — the out­fit friends said Weiser wore at a recital for an up­com­ing dance pro­duc­tion on the night she was killed. They were dis­cov­ered in an aban

doned build­ing near cam­pus where fire­fight­ers found Criner burn­ing items the morn- ing af­ter Weiser dis­ap­peared. Her sil­ver lap­top and blue duf­fel bag were later found in Criner’s room at LifeWorks, prose­cu­tors said. So was a yel­low Killeen High School T-shirt that con­tained a hair that foren­sic an­a­lysts linked to Weiser, prose­cu­tors said.

Criner, orig­i­nally from Texarkana, had been liv­ing in Killeen with a foster

fam­ily be­fore leav­ing unan­nounced for Austin about a week be­fore the at­tack.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Weiser was beaten with a ham­mer, sex­u­ally as­saulted

and stran­gled with a ny­lon tow strap so her air and blood cir­cu­la­tion were cut off. She was found with bad inju- ries to her face, nose and eyes. Her body was nes­tled

be­tween two boul­ders un­der tree limbs.

There’s more ev­i­dence that proves Criner was the at­tacker, Gon­za­lez said.

Sur­veil­lance video taken from a nearby cam­pus build­ing showed a man wear­ing eye­glasses stop­ping the bike he was rid­ing and fol­low­ing Weiser down the path. About two hours later, the video showed the man re­turn, this time with­out glasses, Gon­za­lez said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say they found glasses about 20 feet from Weiser’s body and they match the un­usual pre­scrip­tion worn by Criner.

A black mo­tor­cy­cle jacket and an orange ban­dana the man on the video was wear-

ing are con­sis­tent with items de­tec­tives found in Criner’s room at LifeWorks, Gon­za­lez said.

The hard­back book “All the Light We Can­not See” that Weiser’s par­ents had given her as a gift also was found in Criner’s room, Gon­za­lez said. Its pages were stained with cof­fee that some­one had ac­ci­den­tally spilled on the Weiser fam­ily’s Mex­i­can va­ca­tion the month be­fore.

On Wed­nes­day, a 12-per- son jury cho­sen from roughly 150 can­di­dates heard first from Weiser’s fa­ther, Dr. Thomas Weiser. The 53-yearold physi­cian said his daugh­ter wanted to at­tend UT af­ter two fac­ulty mem­bers ap­proached her with a schol­ar­ship of­fer at a dance com­pe­ti­tion in Florida in her ju­nior year of high school.

“She had the com­bi­na­tion of tal­ent and the way she worked so hard at it,” he said.

Feghali, one of sev­eral of Haruka’s friends who tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day, said Haruka had called her about 9 p.m. on the night she died be­cause she had for­got­ten her keys to their dorm room. The keys were on a ring with a bot­tle of pep­per spray.

“She would have been car­ry­ing her keys with her

pep­per spray in her hand,” Feghali said.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL PHO­TOS / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

The hard­back book “All the Light We Can­not See” that Haruka Weiser’s par­ents had given her as a gift was found in Meechaiel Criner’s room, lead pros­e­cu­tor Guillermo Gon­za­lez says. Its pages were stained with cof­fee ac­ci­den­tally spilled on it dur­ing the Weiser fam­ily’s ear­lier Mex­i­can va­ca­tion. Her fa­ther, Dr. Thomas Weiser, iden­ti­fies the book in court Wed­nes­day.

Meechaiel Criner en­tered a Travis County court­room Wed­nes­day for the open­ing day of the ev­i­dence por­tion of his trial and pleaded not guilty. He was else­where in Austin on the night Univer­sity of Texas stu­dent Haruka Weiser was killed, his lawyer says.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Pros­e­cu­tor Vic­to­ria Winkeler reads the charge against Meechaiel Criner to the jury on Wed­nes­day.

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