Testimony: Charred boot led to Criner’s arrest in UT student slaying


Highlights

Meechaiel Criner is accused of killing freshman Haruka Weiser in April 2016.

Criner’s defense has criticized the investigation, asking why certain items were not tested for DNA.

State District Judge David Wahlberg nearly excluded testimony about key evidence but reconsidered.

Dr. Martens boots have a distinct look featuring the brand’s iconic yellow stitching that connects the top of the shoe to a thick, air-cushioned sole.

University of Texas freshman Haruka Weiser owned a pair, and so did Ray Tynes, an Austin police detective whose discovery of the shoe led to the arrest of Meechaiel Criner, now accused of killing Weiser in April 2016.

As Criner’s capital murder trial reached the midway point Friday with discussion about a second Austin location where prosecutors say Criner had been squatting, Tynes described to the jury his search of a trash barrel at a vacant building on Medical Arts Street. Upon lifting a trash bag that was resting atop the barrel, Tynes said, he looked down and saw the remains of a charred black boot.

It was made by Dr. Martens, the same brand Weiser’s friends said she was wearing when she was last seen on April 3.

“I didn’t question it,” Tynes said.

The boot led to the discovery of more items in the trash barrel seized by Tynes. Near the boot were black pants and a turtleneck sweater Tynes believes Weiser was wearing, as well as notebooks with math problems that Weiser’s friends said she would have had with her. Among the items was a black motorcycle jacket and an orange bandana, clothing Tynes said was consistent with items worn by a man captured on surveillance video taken at UT. The male figure seen in the video follows Weiser toward an isolated path along Waller Creek.

Items found in the trash barrel — including men’s red boxer shorts — were damp and contained a sandy residue that was consistent with the surface near the creek, Tynes said.

Criner’s lawyer Ariel Payan has criticized the investigation and questioned Tynes on why he did not test a blue latex glove found at the crime scene along Waller Creek or a cigarette butt near the storage room in Royal-Memorial Stadium, where Criner had been staying without permission.

The 20-year-old Criner, who faces an automatic life sentence if convicted, has pleaded not guilty.

Firefighters and police had responded to a fire at the abandoned building days earlier and found Criner, then 17, at the scene. He was taken by police to a LifeWorks shelter on South First Street but had to leave behind items that could not fit into the police cruiser.

Tynes decided to head over to the building after learning about the fire and Criner.

When Tynes looked inside the building, he found more items of interest in a brick fire pit, including an electronic component that made him think Criner had burned Weiser’s phone. Next to it was the remainder of the Dr. Martens boot.

But the jury almost did not hear about the trash barrel items after Payan, Criner’s lawyer, appeared to have persuaded state District Judge David Wahlberg to rule that Tynes’ search was unlawful.

With the jury waiting in the back hallway, Wahlberg hinted that Criner’s items should have been protected against a search because police told him he could return to the building and retrieve them after they took him to the youth shelter.

But prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez argued against affording Criner rights as a homeless person that are not given to other members of society. Wahlberg reconsidered and rejected the defense’s motion.



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