AUSTIN — After deliberating for about eleven total hours, a Travis County jury found Meechaiel Criner guilty of capital murder in the trial regarding a University of Texas student who was found dead on campus in 2016.
"You brutally raped her and then you mercilessly killed her and I can see that the truth of that means nothing to you,” said Thomas Weiser, Haruka Weiser’s dad, as he took the stand one last time, speaking to Criner.
Weiser said they’ll never know how many lives his daughter saved.
"I promise you this, the Texas State Board of Paroles and Pardons will need to build a new room to hold all the letters that I and everyone that loves Haruka will be writing to make sure that your twisted fantasies remain just that."
Criner was sentenced to life in prison, but can be eligible for parole after 40 years.
"Now, I thought the prosecution did a great job. With all due respect, they got one thing wrong,” Weiser said. “In their closing argument, they said that Haruka did not prevail. That's not entirely true, is it? I think you messed with the wrong girl that night."
Thursday began with prosecutors telling the jury the suspect "committed this horrific and brutal murder and rape" of a University of Texas at Austin student, and the defense insisted during its closing arguments that "Mick did not commit this crime."
Austin investigators believe Meechaiel Criner killed Weiser on campus back in April of 2016.
"[Weiser] did not prevail. Now the 12 of you are our community, and now we’re asking you to tell him, neither will you, you will not win. Find him guilty for the murder, the capital murder that he committed to Haruka Weiser,” prosecutors said, referencing Criner’s testimony when he said the victim in his story prevails.
During day six of testimony Wednesday, two documents believed to be written by Criner were shown to the jury. It described "rape" and "blood."
"He committed this horrific and brutal murder and rape, just like his fantasies," the state said during their closing arguments Thursday.
She then approached Criner in the courtroom and said, "You will not win."
"Find him guilty," she said toward the jury.
Defense denied Criner's connection to Weiser's death in their closing arguments. Weiser's father left the room during this portion of the trial.
"Just because you have A and B, that doesn’t get you to C," the defense said.
DNA evidence found at the scene of Weiser's death cannot be used in the trial. The judge opted to toss out the evidence because of an error when it was processed in the Department of Public Safety lab.
The defense called much of the evidence shown to the jury “circumstantial.”
"Mick did not commit this crime," defense said. "Look at the evidence. And you'll see all the pieces, all that circumstantial evidence come together. But at the time of the murder, the computer is being used."
Earlier in the trial, a witness said the operating system was running. However, prosecutors said the witness clarified that didn't mean the computer was being used by someone. Prosecutors said the computer could have just been left on.
“But at the end of the day, where is the evidence that something was being done with the computer? Where is it? Where’s the internet activity? Where’s the word document? Where’s the email? Where’s the video? Where is it? It doesn’t exist, because the computer was not being used,” the prosecutor said.
The defense compared photos of Criner to Marquel Boone, the first suspect in Weiser's death. The defense said Boone also had a history of sexual assault, bike theft and hanging around UT campus. They also said Criner isn’t strong enough to commit this crime.
The prosecution later responded.
"Was Mr. Boone found with the dead girl’s property?” the prosecution rebutted.
Criner took the stand Wednesday to testify, catching some people off guard. During testimony, he smiled often and sometimes laughed.
He denied killing Weiser, however he understands why the jury might think he did after he was found with many of her belongings. He claimed he found them in a trash can and that he was at the vacant building the night Haruka was killed. Prosecutors questioned his story multiple times during their closing arguments.
"So far, I don't like my odds," Criner testified. "It doesn't look good for me."
The defense brought this comment up in their closing argument on Thursday.
“Doesn’t look so good for me? You’re charged with capital murder. You’re on the stand. You’re testifying in front of fourteen people who are going to decide your fate, and you turn to them and say, ‘doesn’t look so good for me.’ How stupid do you have to be to say that,” the defense continued. “If you’re going to lie, that’s when you lie. ‘Oh there’s no way they’re going to convict me, this evidence is terrible, how could you even…’ Anything, except for that. That is the dumbest thing he could have said. Because God forbid you believe him.”
Defense continued to say that Criner is honest to a fault. Prosecutors also had some thoughts on his demeanor.
"And he laughed every once and a while because, you know, it’s only a capital murder trial and it’s high stakes and I’m on the stand," a prosecutor said.
Prosecutors also reminded the jury that Criner identified himself wearing an orange bandana in a selfie found on his tablet. Prosecutors say that is the same bandana seen in surveillance video the night Haruka was murdered and the same bandana found -- damp and sandy -- at the bottom of the trash bin where firefighters placed Criner’s belongings.
Both defense and prosecutors said Weiser was the victim of a “brutal” attack.
Prosecutors brought people in the courtroom to tears while they wrapped their closing arguments by showing a picture of Haruka Weiser.
"Don't forget what he put her through,” prosecutors said to the jury. “When you read that charge, you remember Haruka Weiser. When you think of all this stuff he told you about, you remember her. That's why we're here.”
UT President Gregory L. Fenves released the following statement about the verdict:
Dear UT Community,
Today, a jury in Austin reached a verdict in the trial surrounding the 2016 murder of UT student Haruka Weiser. It found the suspect guilty of this horrific crime.
During the trial, emotions have come rushing back for so many in our community. A verdict provides some closure, but it doesn’t heal the pain or ease the sense of loss felt by Haruka’s family and all of the students, faculty members and staff members to whom she meant so much. We still hurt terribly. We still feel her loss on a profound level.
Haruka’s life was dedicated to positivity and creativity. She adored living in Austin, and during the past two years the people of Austin have shown nothing but love and support to her family. That is the legacy she has left behind, and it is inspiring to everyone here at UT.
This spring, a powerful dance piece, “Transcendence,” was performed for the first time. It was the inaugural work in the Haruka Weiser Commission series — which funds new artistic performances in celebration of Haruka’s life and art. I can think of no better way to remember her than this: to illuminate the stages she danced on so marvelously, with new ideas, thoughts and visions.
So, in these difficult days, know that The University of Texas will continue to honor and celebrate our vibrant student Haruka Weiser. She is deeply missed, but her memory is a great source of strength for so many here on the Forty Acres. It always will be.
Gregory L. Fenves
Reporter Molly Oak is reporting from the courtroom. Follow her on Twitter for live updates.