Defense presents new forensic evidence in Criner hearing

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Less than two months after he was found guilty of capital murder of dance freshman Haruka Weiser, Meechaiel Criner appeared in court Wednesday as his attorneys asked the judge for a new trial.

Defense attorneys previously filed a motion for a new trial for Meechaiel Criner amid allegations of jury misconduct. According to the Austin American-Statesman, jury foreman Kenny Rogers violated his juror’s oath by researching facts about the case. Another juror signed an affidavit alleging she was bullied into pleading guilty by the other jurors, according to KXAN.

“We talked to the other jurors, and it turned out that there was no validity to the allegations,” lead prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez said.

During the motion hearing Wednesday afternoon, allegations of jury misconduct were waived. The updated motion was limited to new evidence found through forensic testing of Criner’s tablet.

Matthew Danner, a forensic examiner for Flashback Data who testified for the defense, said a re-evaluation of Criner’s Nextbook tablet found information not introduced during the July trial.

Danner said data showed that between 8:45 p.m. and 8:46 p.m. on April 3, 2016, someone pressed the power button on Criner’s tablet at least four times. This is the same window of time that surveillance video from the date showed a man riding a bicycle. Later footage showed the same figure following Weiser by Waller Creek.

“If he was using (the tablet) … then he is not the guy on the bike,” defense attorney Ariel Payan said. “And if he is not the guy on the bike, he did not kill Haruka Weiser.”

During the trial, the state argued the tablet activity could have been caused by it jostling in a backpack, but the defense said the activity meant Criner was actively using it.

The prosecution argued the defense was not presenting any new evidence in the hearing.

“We believe this is just a bolstering of (Danner’s) testimony,” state prosecutor Victoria Winkeler said. “We don’t have any evidence that (Criner) was the one, in fact, on the computer.”

In response to the activity found on the tablet, Judge David Wahlberg said he recognized that although the forensic evidence may be legitimate, it was not compelling.

“That doesn't, at least in my mind, come anywhere close to negating the rest of the evidence," Wahlberg said.

Wahlberg said he aims to have a decision about whether to grant Criner a new trial by Oct. 2.