HOUSTON – Last week, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner will be charged with 1st degree murder in the death of, Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old University of Texas at Austin student.
“The 18-year-old dance student was victim of a “horrifying and incomprehensible” killing, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said.
Police identified Criner as the person of interest in the case; a 6-feet-tall Black man seen riding through campus on a pink and red woman’s bike around 11 p.m.
“We are very certain the subject we have in custody is the suspect responsible for the death of this beautiful young woman,” said Chief Acevedo.
However, family members have begun to raise questions about the presented evidence against Criner.
I was able to sit down one on one with Criner’s 23-year old sister and his cousin. They believe that the evidence being used against Criner is simply Chief Acevedo trying to force two puzzle pieces together that don’t fit, yet seems close enough to satisfy lazy detectives.
“I believe the killer is still at-large,” said Criner’s sister. “Instead of searching for the real killer, the police chief has tried to sell a false narrative of a scary 17-year old mentally ill homeless Black man murdering this 18-year old beautiful White child leaving drama class.”
Criner’s sister believes that her brother was just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and warns the public against rushing to judgment.
“There are many people who have reached out to me on social media who believes this entire story is a stretch and that the real killer is still out there, “said Criner’s cousin.
This all started Sunday, April 3, where at 9:20 p.m., police say surveillance video shows Criner initially arriving on the UT Austin campus and attempting to open the doors to a parked van.
Criner failed, got on a bike, and then left.
At 9:30 p.m., Haruka Weiser called a friend to inform her that she was “on her way” back to her dorm after her class ended at the F. Loren Winship Drama Building. At 9:38 p.m., according to the affidavit, Criner went back to the original spot where the van was parked. Surveillance video reveals a woman walking toward the alumni center.
According to the document, as the woman passes, Criner watches her, puts the kickstand down on the bike, and then reaches into the back of his pants to pull out a “shiny, rigid object” that was allegedly used on Weiser.
“This document is implying that Meechaiel killed her with a shiny rigid object but the police never recovered such object and have refused to release the details of the exact cause of death,” explained Criner’s sister.
The arrest affidavit said Weiser’s body had “obvious trauma” and an autopsy showed that she had been assaulted.
However, police have refused to release any more detail, except to say that the route she took from her dorm to the drama building often passed Waller Creek, where her body was found.
“If she died of stab wounds then release the information stating that so people can begin to look for a knife, but instead the police have been extremely vague in their detail, which is why I believe they are hiding something,” said Criner’s sister.
According to the affidavit, at 9:38 pm after Criner pulled out the “shiny, rigid object,” he followed the woman across the bridge and onto the sidewalk that extends behind the alumni center and runs along the west bank of Waller Creek. Over two hours later, at 11:47 p.m., surveillance footage allegedly shows the suspect walking alongside the bike with a slight limp, appearing to stem from an injury to his left leg, the document says.
“I’m sorry, but 9:30 pm on a Sunday night at a huge university with 50 thousand plus students attending, and you expect me to believe no one saw anything or was around but these two people?” asked Criner’s cousin.
In the video, Criner can be seen carrying a new bag that he was not seen carrying in earlier surveillance footage, according to the affidavit.
“My brother is a little slow and I wouldn’t be surprise if he just picked up a random bag left on the ground. Any homeless person probably would,” said Criner’s sister.
The next day, Monday, April 4 at 8:21 a.m., firefighters from the Austin Fire Department responded to a fire at an abandoned building, where Criner was found burning items inside. After the fire was put out, Austin police were called to the scene because the male was found to be 17 years old and homeless. Fire officials took the bike Criner had in his possession in for safekeeping. Police then seized several bags and a backpack from him, and then took the teen to LifeWorks, a youth shelter, the affidavit says.
At 11:02 a.m., on Monday, Weiser was reported missing to university police after she didn’t show up to her Monday morning classes. Her roommate said she was carrying a blue duffle bag, which contained her MacBook computer, an iPhone 6, materials for school and an extra jacket. University police then conducted a search, but were unable to locate her.
On Tuesday, April 7, at 9:45 a.m., University police canvassed the route where Weiser was known to walk to and from her dorm and classes. During the search, the body of a young woman with “obvious trauma” was found in [Waller] creek behind the UT Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. At 10:45 a.m., the body was identified as Weiser, and she was pronounced dead by Austin-Travis County EMS Medical Director Dr. Mark Ackrell.
“The only evidence that I have seen is Meechaiel allegedly witnessing the victim walking and then two hours later he was seen with her bag,” said Criner’s sister. “I believe that the Austin Police Chief found this scary Black homeless suspect who he believes brutally murdered a smart beautiful young woman.”
The Austin American Statesman reported this week that Weiser appears to have been sexually assaulted and died of strangulation. They report that their findings were according to preliminary evidence gathered by detectives.
“I believe Meechaiel’s side should be told and heard before people begin to rush to judgment with little to no evidence that this 17-year-old young man brutally murdered someone,” said Criner’s cousin.
So who exactly is Meechaiel Criner?
Criner was born June 3, 1998, in Dallas, TX. He suffered permanent brain damage, due to a drug addicted mother who was on hard and heavy drugs while she was pregnant with him. Criner was mentally and physically abused by his grandmother, Mary Wadley, after custody was given to a lady who had a long police record. Criner suffered from schizophrenia, autism and depression.
In a local news report, police files reveal a list of abuses that Criner suffered as a youth.
In May 2009, Criner’s grandmother was arrested and charged with injuring a child, after a neighbor spotted her beating him with a belt outside their home. When the police arrived, they found then 10- year-old Criner with two black eyes. He had to use both fingers to open them.
“Despite the beatings and rough upbringing, Meechaiel would never put his hands on anyone, especially a woman,” said Criner’s sister. “He has literally touched everyone’s heart he has come in contact with and people from all over loved my brother.”
Criner’s sister said that Meechaiel was determined to climb out of his rough childhood and make a good name for himself. Criner’s uncle reported that his 17-year-old nephew was intellectually disabled and had the mental equivalent of a 10-year-old.
“I refuse to believe he just maliciously killed this young lady,” said Criner’s uncle. “This kid doesn’t know anything about killing. His mind doesn’t compute like that.”
In a December 2014 interview with a high school newspaper in Texarkana, Criner once described his troubled childhood and abuse while in foster care.
“They say CPS is supposed to be a good place, but it’s not,” wrote Criner. “At first, it didn’t seem that bad. But as the days passed on, it turned out that foster care is almost-well, almost a prison.”
The story details more violence that Criner reportedly faced during his time in foster care and how it impacted him.
“I like to stand up for people,” wrote Criner. “I like to help others. Every day I feel people think I’m not capable of much.”
Criner’s story concluded with this quote, as he wrote, “What I want to leave behind is my name. I want them to know who Meechaiel is.”
Criner had prepared for the long, rough, life ahead of him. He was held back twice, in elementary and middle school, due to a lack of understanding the material and not catching on as fast and well as the other students.
“Meechaiel grew up as a deacon in our church at a young age and was a sweet kind person who believed his faith would help him overcome his trials and tribulations,” said Criner’s sister. “He constantly struggled but he was determined to overcome the challenges placed in front of him.”
There are still many unanswered questions, the family stated.
“Where is the real evidence of Meechaiel Criner committing such horrible crime?” asked Criner’s cousin. “Was he another victim of racial profiling or is this another case of the vilification of the homeless?”
Many took to Twitter to express their concerns.
As this case continues to evolve, the Criner family will be represented by Attorney Andre Evans and the Forward Times will continue to follow this story as more details are uncovered and revealed.