AUSTIN (KXAN) — The family of the 17-year-old charged with murder in the death of a University of Texas at Austin student is coming to his defense.
Over the weekend, KTRK in Houston spoke with Meechaiel Criner’s sister, who asked for her name to be kept private, about her brother’s background and how she’s still trying to process how he could be linked to Haruka Weiser‘s murder.
Criner’s sister, who is a second-year law student, tells KTRK they had a tough upbringing. Criner, who never met his father, was the youngest of five children.
His family said he is mentally ill and has been getting psychiatric help since he was a young child. “He’s slow on a lot of things. It takes him longer to pick up than the average person, but he’s not slow enough to say I’m going to kill this person and take her purse and carry it with me,” Criner’s sister said to KTRK. “No one is that slow. Meechaiel is not that slow. Meechaiel is not that crazy to do that.”
In an article published in December 2014 by Texas High School in Texarkana, Criner said he was bullied his whole life and went through the foster care system as a child. In the story titled Voice of Hope, Criner said he was a victim of physical violence. He said one foster parent threw him to the ground and injured his back.
Criner’s sister said the siblings bounced between their grandmother’s care in Texarkana and Child Protective Services (CPS).
Mary Wadley, Criner’s maternal grandmother, spoke to KSLA from her home in Texarakana Friday. Wadley said she hadn’t heard from Criner in nearly a year and was worried he was the victim.
“I thought you were going to tell me that somebody done killed him that is what I thought,” said Wadley. Wadley went on to say her grandson did have a temper. “If you made him mad, he [would] snap, his temper snap real fast and even the school know about it, they tried to work with him too to make sure the other kids didn’t bother him.”
Criner’s History of Abuse and Neglect
While Wadley painted one picture in her interview with KSLA, court records from the past several years indicate a sordid history of child abuse claims. Wadley was granted permanent managing conservator of Criner and his sister in March 2002, when authorities couldn’t locate their parents.
In an affidavit, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) was called to Wadley’s home to investigate physical abuse of Criner in May 2009. The report alleged Criner, who was 10 years old at the time, was hit across the face with a belt by his grandmother. Wadley admitted to spanking Criner but says the belt incident was an accident. When interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center, Criner said “he is physically disciplined by his grandmother” and his mom, Vivian Criner, was the person who took him to the hospital to get his eye examined.
In June 2009, the state removed Criner and his sister, along with her children, out of their grandmother’s care and into the foster care of their maternal aunt. Wadley agreed to adhere to anger management classes, psychological evaluation, parenting classes and counseling. According to police records, Wadley was arrested in August 2009 on an injury to a child charge for the May incident.
|CPS History for Mary Wadley||Allegation||Status|
|Dec. 1, 1998||Physical Abuse by Mary Wadley||Ruled out and merged with another case|
|Sept. 9, 1999||Physical Abuse of Meechaeil Criner by his mother, Vivian Criner||Unable to be determined|
|July 20, 2001||Physical Abuse of Meechaiel, his sister and her children by Vivian Criner||Children were removed from Vivian’s care|
|March 9, 2006||Physical Abuse of Meechaiel’s sister by Mary Wadley||Unable to be determined|
|Nov. 15, 2007||Neglectful supervision||Ruled out|
|Jan. 1, 2008||Unknown||Closed at intake|
|April 11, 2008||Neglectful supervision and Physical Abuse of Meechaiel’s sister by Mary Wadley||Ruled out|
The DFPS confirms Criner was in the state’s foster care system and in August 2015 was enrolled at a Ellison High School in Killeen. Students and faculty say he walked out of the Ellision High at the end of March. He was reported missing to Killeen police on March 24. Texarkana police also confirm Criner ran away twice when he was in Texarkana, once in February 2015 and again in August of the same year.
While she is waiting for a chance to speak to her brother, Criner’s sister said she believes her brother did not commit the crime he is accused of doing. “My condolences go out to the Weiser family. I am greatly deeply sorry that this happened. I’m deeply sorry, but I assure you that my brother Meechaiel Criner did not do this.”
Criner is currently in the Travis County Jail charged with murder. His bond is set at $1 million.
With additional reporting by KTRK and KSLA.