Jury selection began Monday for the trial of Meechaiel Criner, the 20-year-old indicted in connection with the the capital murder of dance freshman Haruka Weiser.
More than 70 people appeared before the 167th District Court on Monday as prospective jurors. After being seated, they were asked about their exposure to media coverage of the crime and their opinions concerning the defendant.
Judge David Wahlberg, assistant district attorney Guillermo Gonzalez and defense attorney Ariel Payan emphasized the importance of a fair and partial trial to the jury pool, especially because of the large media coverage of the case.
“Seeing media coverage doesn’t disqualify you from being on jury,” Gonzalez said. “Disliking people who commit violent crimes does also not disqualify you.”
After the judge, the defense attorneys and the prosecution reviewed the jury questionnaire, 30 members of the jury pool were dismissed.
“If anything you’ve heard or seen has helped you form an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the defendant and if you believe that this would influence your verdict, that would disqualify you from serving as a juror,” Payan said.
By the end of the day, six women and three men in the jury pool were selected to be on the jury for the trial, which is expected to start Wednesday. The remaining three jurors and several alternates will be chosen from a new pool by Tuesday evening.
Weiser was reported missing in on April 4, 2016, after she did not return home from dance practice. Her body was found a day later behind the on-campus Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.
Austin Police later arrested Criner as the suspect in the murder after finding him at an abandoned building burning items similar to those in Weiser’s possession, according to the arrest affidavit.
Criner was indicted by a Travis County grand jury in June 2016. The indictment accuses Criner of killing Weiser by strangulation with a ligature, as well as of other charges including sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery. If convicted of capital murder, Criner could face life in prison with the possibility of parole in 40 years.
The trial will be finished by July 20, Wahlberg said.