A jury on Friday convicted a 20-year-old man in the 2016 murder of a University of Texas freshman ballet dancer whose body was found in a creek, PEOPLE confirms.
Meechaiel Criner was found guilty of capital murder in the death of Haruka Weiser, an 18-year-old student from Portland, Oregon, says a Travis County District Attorney’s Office official.
Criner was sentenced to life in prison. Because he was 17 when he strangled and sexually assaulted Weiser, he was not eligible to receive the death penalty, according to the official.
He will be eligible for parole in 40 years, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
A person who answered the phone at the office of Criner’s defense attorney Ariel Payan says Criner plans to appeal the verdict.
The prosecutor’s official tells PEOPLE that Weiser’s father, Dr. Thomas Weiser, addressed Criner after he was convicted.
“What can a father say to the one that killed his daughter?” Dr. Weiser said, according to the American-Statesman.
According to the paper, Dr. Weiser said he believed Criner would continue to murder and sexually assault women had he not been caught.
“She was the first victim in what you hoped to be a long run of unsolved murders,” he said.
The Case So Far
Weiser’s body was found in Waller Creek on the university’s Austin campus.
An affidavit obtained by PEOPLE after Criner’s arrest cited surveillance video showing him following Weiser across a bridge on school grounds, at one point pulling a “shiny, rigid object” from his back pocket.
Criner exits the frame in the footage but returns again later, limping and carrying a duffel bag matching the one Weiser was previously carrying, according to the affidavit.
Police said at the time that Weiser had “obvious trauma” to her body and there was evidence she’d been sexually assaulted, local TV station KEYE reported.
Criner testified at trial that he had never seen or met Weiser. He was homeless at the time of the killing, the affidavit stated.
Defense attorney Payan pointed to data he said showed that Criner’s computer tablet was being used around the time of Weiser’s murder.
But according to the American-Statesman, prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez said that while the tablet was on, nobody was using it.
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While Payan said Criner, a high school dropout, had intellectual disabilities, Gonzalez described him as “an exceptionally dangerous and frightening individual,” according to the American-Statesman.
In addition to capital murder, jurors were able to consider other felony charges against Criner, including aggravated sexual assault and robbery, the official says.
He pleaded not guilty to all of them, according to the official, but because he was convicted on capital murder charges jurors did not consider the other charges.
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