A district judge has tossed out some DNA evidence in the the 2016 murder case of UT freshman Haruka Weiser. That is after the validity of a new Department of Public Safety testing system was called into question.
This ruling in the defense's favor is ahead of the July 9 trial date. This system used by DPS is also used in a number of labs across the U.S., including the FBI.
A pre-trial hearing began Monday for Meechaiel Criner, the suspect charged with the 2016 murder of UT freshman Haruka Weiser. By Wednesday, District Judge David Wahlberg decided to toss out two pieces of DNA evidence: a sample from Weiser's glasses and right thigh. Criner's attorney Ariel Payan is pleased with the ruling.
"You have to have confidence in the technology and the science to be able to present it to a jury and that's from our side, the defense side, we obviously don't have confidence," says Ariel Payan, Criner's attorney.
The state asked for evidence related to DNA testing done by the Department of Public Safety to be admissible in court. At the time of the incident, DPS was using a new technology called STRmix. The state says the forensic software gives a different type of statistic than what the courts are used to. Their goal was to prove that it is a scientifically accepted technique, even having a lead forensic scientist testify on behalf of its validity. But, the defense raised multiple issues regarding how it was flawed. Payan says Weiser and Criner's genetic patterns are very similar.
"Every single one of the single-source samples showed him there and he can't be there. It's not physically possible for him to be there. They were blood samples taken from her body, not on her body but from her veins. There's no way his blood is inside her veins, that's not physically possible. The technology itself causes an artifact, that artifact would indicate to a human being that it's not something to be reviewed but you give it to a machine, where you take the safeties off, there's no human being that's overseeing the machine and that's the problem," says Payan.
Weiser was headed back to her dorm from dance practice when police say she was attacked and assaulted April of 2016. Her body was found in Waller Creek on campus two days after she went missing. Criner was later arrested at a homeless shelter where police say they found him with some of Weiser's belongings. He is pleading not guilty to the capital murder charge.
"My client has denied this all throughout. He was homeless, he was scavenging off the streets, he was living off three-day old yogurt and a box of chips he found somewhere, so he was you know scavenging. The fact that he's found with some stuff is not a surprise at all considering how he was surviving at the time," says Payan.
If found guilty, Criner faces a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
There is other DNA evidence in the case that wasn't subject to Wednesday's ruling but it's still unsure whether the state will use it.
We reached out to DPS and the agency is monitoring the proceedings. They say they have been in contact with the District Attorney's office and will provide them any needed information.