Trial for Meechaiel Criner begins

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The trial began Wednesday for Meechaiel Criner, the 20-year-old indicted on capital murder in connection with the death of dance freshman Haruka Weiser.

After swearing in the jury, assistant district attorney Guillermo Gonzalez and defense attorney Darla Davis gave their opening statements in front of the courtroom, previewing a trial that is expected to continue until July 20.

During his opening statement, Gonzalez described evidence he plans to introduce, including clothes, surveillance video and dozens of personal items he said belong to Weiser and were found in Criner’s possession.

“(There is) evidence (that) shows (Criner) has some items that he has scavenged,” Davis said. “(But) evidence shows that Criner was not there when Weiser was killed.”

Thomas Weiser, Haruka Weiser’s father, testified first in court about his relationship with his daughter. Thomas Weiser identified a book he gave his daughter, “All the Light We Cannot See,” which prosecutors said was found in Criner’s possession.

Dance and urban studies senior Andrea Duong testified about her friendship with Weiser and the last text messages they exchanged.

“(Haruka and I) just did pretty much everything together,” Duong said. “We were texting back and forth pretty regularly (the night Weiser went missing), and then she didn’t respond back, (which was unusual).”

Weiser’s roommate Sylvia Feghali also testified about her phone conversations with Weiser on April 3. Feghali said Weiser called her on her way back from dance practice that evening, but never returned to her dorm room.

“(When she didn’t come back to her dorm room), I tried to come up with reasons why she wasn’t there,” Feghali said. “I didn’t get a response from Weiser (after I texted her multiple times that night).”

Elizabeth Tan, a dance and economics senior, testified about her friendship with Weiser. The prosecution asked Tan, who shared a ballet class with Weiser, about any romantic involvements Weiser had. Tan said Weiser hadn’t been dating anyone for a few months.

UT police officer Ryan Rodriguez testified about conducting the investigation into Haruka Weiser’s missing person report on April 4, 2016. After originally investigating the walkway near Waller Creek, Rodriguez and other police officers went back again to the area to search for Weiser again.

“As I was (walking) down (from the top of an embankment at Waller Creek), I noticed a (female) body covered in branches.” Rodriguez said.

This body was later identified as Weiser, according to the arrest affidavit.

Former APD homicide detective Ray Tynes also testified about his investigation into the death of Weiser. He said he was called in to help UTPD with the scene after officers discovered the body.

“I don’t believe Weiser had any time at all to defend herself from her attacker (based on observations of her hands and fingernails),” Tynes said.