Attorneys focus on scene of fire in third full day of Criner trial

AddThis

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Witnesses in the trial of Meechaiel Criner testified Friday about the abandoned building where evidence connected to both Haruka Weiser and Meechaiel Criner was found.

In the third day of testimony, attorneys asked firefighters, police officers and an Austin Police Department detective about evidence and the individual found at the scene of a small fire at 2911 Medical Arts St. on the morning of April 4, 2016.  

Aaron Wernsman, a fire specialist with the Austin Fire Department, testified that he saw an individual inside the abandoned building who had built a small fire. After the individual told Wernsman his name, Wernsman said he collected a red bike from the scene, deposited it at the fire station, and wrote a note on the bike that said it belonged to Meechaiel Criner.

“We were very concerned that we were dealing with someone young and living on the streets,” Wernsman said. “He couldn’t take the bicycle with him, so we offered to take it so he could come later and pick it up.”

John Bass, a firefighter with the AFD, testified that he saw three bicycles, a half-burned black shoe and a notebook with some math problems in the abandoned building. Weiser's friends testified Wednesday that Haruka was wearing all black before her death and was taking a calculus class.

Both Wernsman and Bass testified that they had put some items belonging to Criner, who said he was homeless, in a trash can for him to retrieve later.

Wensman said he then called LifeWorks, a youth homeless shelter, so Criner would have a place to stay. When APD officers Nick Garcia and Marco Gonzalez came to drive the individual to Lifeworks, the individual at the building said his name was Meechaiel Criner and gave the officer his birthdate.

Gonzalez said he searched Criner’s bags and found a MacBook laptop. Weiser’s friends testified on Wednesday that Weiser had a MacBook in her possession before her death.

“During the frisk, I opened a backpack and (saw) the profile of a laptop that looked like a Macbook,” Gonzalez said. “It struck me as odd that someone who is homeless (and) has no place to stay could afford that.”

After APD released surveillance video of the person suspected of killing Weiser during a press conference on April 7, 2016, Wernsman said he recognized the suspect as the same person from the abandoned building. Wernsman said multiple other individuals with the AFD also said the bicycle and person from the abandoned building were the same as in the video.

“I immediately believed that it was the same bicycle and the same individual," Wensman said. ”I could feel from my toes to the top in my head that I knew that the person in the video was the person we had encountered in Medical Arts.”

Former APD homicide detective Ray Tynes said he went to the abandoned building on April 8 and found a motorcycle jacket, a green T-shirt and an orange bandana in a trash can. The suspect, who was shown in the surveillance video walking toward Waller Creek in the same direction as another individual, was wearing similar clothing.

“In my mind, this was an exact match of what I saw on that video that the suspect wore,” Tynes said