Pretrial court date for UT murder suspect pushed back to March

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

A February pretrial court date for the suspect in the murder of theater and dance freshman Haruka Weiser has been pushed back to March, just four days before he is scheduled to stand trial.

Meechaiel Khalil Criner was indicted on a charge of capital murder in connection to the death of Weiser by a Travis County grand jury last June.  The two-page indictment accused Criner of sexually assaulting Weiser and killing her by strangulation with “a ligature, a deadly weapon.”  The indictment also accused Criner of kidnapping and robbing Weiser.

Criner is scheduled to stand trial on March 27, but this date is likely to be delayed as Criner’s attorneys are still awaiting DNA results. Since the Austin Police Department’s forensic lab was shut down last June due to use of improper and outdated methods, the overflow of forensic tests have been sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is processing 20 of APD’s cases each month.

“There was genetic material found on the body of Ms. Weiser that was not hers,” Criner’s court-appointed attorney Ariel Payan said in court last November, according to KXAN.  “That is why we are all anxiously awaiting the DNA results. It is crucial to this case for the state and defense.”

Weiser was reported missing early last April after failing to return home from a dance rehearsal the previous evening. On April 5, her body was found in Waller Creek, behind the on-campus alumni center near San Jacinto and East 23rd streets.

Since Criner was a minor at the time of the offense, he cannot receive the death penalty because of a 2005 Supreme Court decision. If convicted, Criner will automatically be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

Criner is scheduled to appear in court again on March 23.