UT murder case stalled due to DNA testing backlog

Meechaiel Criner (Travis County Jail Photo)
Meechaiel Criner (Travis County Jail Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During a scheduled hearing for Meechaiel Criner, the 18-year-old accused of killing University of Texas at Austin student Haruka Weiser, the state revealed to defense attorneys they are still waiting for DNA to be processed in the case.

“There was genetic material found on the body of Ms. Weiser that was not hers. That is why we are all anxiously awaiting the DNA results. It is crucial to this case for the state and defense,” said Criner’s attorney, Arien Payan, at court on Friday. Back in September, Payan said prosecutors told them the DNA was not ready, and now two months later, it’s still not back.

“They have not been able to finish the testing is all they keep saying. I know there’s been a lot of problems and issues with DNA right now because of the APD lab shutting down and the pressure that puts on DPS to finish things and DPS is working on it,” he said.

Because the Austin Police Department Forensics lab is currently shut down, the Texas Department of Public Safety is helping process about 20 DNA samples from APD every month.

“They’ve spoken with the DPS technician there and the scientists there are trying to get them to finish up,” explained Payan.

Former Travis County Prosecutor, Darla Davis, says she worked on many DNA cases. Davis says with the Austin lab debacle she’s afraid justice in Travis County is questionable.

“I’m horrified that the crime lab that is responsible for analyzing all of the evidence in any violent crime that the city of Austin investigates that there was such a level of malfeasance in that lab that they had to be shut down and that that malfeasance had been going on for such a long time that there could be cases out there that the DNA was wrong and we may never know it,” Davis says.

The stalled DNA testing is not only affecting previous cases, but also cases like Weiser’s that are ongoing.

“It’s not good enough to say this is a police department problem. It’s not. It is a problem that every citizen should care about and our elected officials are on the city council so they are ultimately responsible,” Davis says.

Criner’s next scheduled court hearing is set for Dec. 8.

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