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UT homicide: How an ’86 murder case likely helped police catch suspect

Saturday - 16/04/2016 00:18
Police discovered homicide victim Haruka Weiser’s body in a University of Texas creek bed last week, 30 years to the day that Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University.

Three decades and 1,600 miles separate the tragedies, but the legacy of Clery’s death was apparent in Austin last week — and may have played a part in quickly leading investigators to Weiser’s alleged killer.

Weiser, an 18-year-old freshman attending UT on a full dance scholarship, was randomly targeted and killed the evening of April 3 while making the five-minute walk f-rom the drama building to her dorm room on the usually bustling campus, police said.

University of Texas dance student Haruka Weiser was slain April 3. (Family photo)

The 1990 Clery Act requires colleges and universities to disclose their security policies, keep a public crime log, publish an annual crime report and provide timely warnings to students and campus employees about immediate or ongoing threats.

Slideshow: University of Texas homicide in Austin >>>

The federal law doesn’t dictate safety measures such as emergency call boxes, electronic keycards at residence halls or video surveillance, but the increased scrutiny has led many U.S. colleges to beef up their security presence.

“The type of target hardening that can either prevent crimes f-rom occurring or when a tragic crime does occur, can be used to promptly identify a suspect — that may have not been possible in previous years,” said S. Daniel Carter, a longtime campus safety consultant.

Today, the University of Texas has 617 video surveillance cameras in use on its 431-acre campus. While the technology didn’t prevent Weiser’s death, cameras did capture video of the ballerina passing her alleged attacker near a walking trail close to the UT alumni center and football stadium.

Murder suspect Meechaiel Criner. (Austin Police Department)Police used the images to get the public’s help in identifying Meechaiel Criner, a 17-year-old homeless runaway who they said killed the popular dance student sometime between 9:30 and 11:50 p.m. Criner, c-harged with murder, remains in jail with bail set at $1 million. According to his arrest affidavit, the video shows Criner pulling what appears to be a “shiny rigid object” f-rom his pants as he begins to trail Weiser. When arrested, detectives said Criner was in possession of some of Weiser’s things, including her laptop and duffle bag.

Citing unidentified police sources, theAustin Statesman and KVUE-TV report that Weiser appears to have been sexually assaulted and strangled, based on preliminary evidence gathered by detectives. Jail records, as of Thursday, indicate Criner has not been c-harged with additional crimes. His court-appointed attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment about the case.

At the family’s request, UT has established the Haruka Weiser Memorial Fund.

“At an appropriate time, the family will determine how to best use these gifts to cre-ate a fitting tribute to honor Haruka,” the university states on its website.

Jeanne Clery's murder

On April 5, 1986, 19-year-old Jeanne Clery was slain by a student who she did not know in Bethlehem, Pa. Her killer, who is serving a life sentence in prison, gained access to her residence hall through a series of propped open and unlocked doors.

“There were no real target hardening and access control systems in place,” Carter told Yahoo News. “Students did not know about a history of violent crimes occurring on her campus and were lulled into a false sense of security.”


Austin Police Department release video of suspect in UT Austin student’s murder

On April 7, the Austin Police Department released a new surveillance video “asking for the public’s help in identifying a Murder suspect.” The video comes after a female student was murdered on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus on April 3.

The Clery case prompted a backlash against undisclosed crime on U.S. campuses. Believing that Lehigh University had failed to share vital information with its students regarding campus safety, Howard and Connie Clery campaigned for legislative reform for several years following their daughter’s death. Numerous institutions have been found noncompliant and fined heavily since the Clery Act went into effect in 1991.

“I don’t think you can deny that the Clery Act has been transformational around issues of transparency and reporting in higher education,” said Alison Kiss, the executive director of The Clery Center for Security on Campus.

Weiser’s death was UT’s first on-campus homicide since sniper C-harles Whitman gunned down 14 people f-rom the UT Tower nearly 50 years ago.

Because of the Clery Act, UT students and faculty received an “urgent” email f-rom campus police 41 minutes after Weiser’s body was discovered.

“UTPD responded to reports of a deceased person in a creek on campus west of the Alumni Center,” the notification warned. “The death is being investigated as a homicide by UTPD.”

Jeanne Clery with her parents and brothers six years before she was murdered at Lehigh University. (Clery Center)

UT published its “2015 Annual Security Report” last September. The 47-page document provides crime statistics for the past three years, outlines various programs available for crime victims and prevention, and lists security features like the school’s 177 emergency call boxes. The phones, which go directly to 911, are mounted to yellow poles topped by blue lights.

A map of UT’s call boxes indicates there were emergency phones at both ends of a 500-foot footpath whe-re Weiser was killed. Citing the ongoing investigation, university police would not disclose if Weiser attempted to use the panic boxes.

In the days since Weiser’s slaying, nearly 800 people have signed an online petitionrequesting more emergency call boxes be added at the school of about 50,000 students.

“Because my sophomore son attends UT and I’m nine hours away and the times I've been on campus I don't like how the homeless roam near campus,” wrote petition supporter Angeline Martinez of Amarillo, Texas. “They’ve approached my son before and he didn't know what to do but walk away. I don’t feel safe and something really needs to be done to make campus safer for the students. This was a preventable murder and a shame that it took this for UT to consider better safety improvements.”


In the wake of Weiser’s death, the university promises a first-ever campus-wide security assessment with the help of outside crime experts. UT police Chief David Carter said the review would scrutinize four key areas: electronic security equipment, environmental design, video monitoring and security personnel.

“Our students deserve and expect to be safe,” Carter told Yahoo News. “The [state] assessment and our continued work with [Austin police] and the city are a good start to making safety improvements on and around campus.”

The heavily wooded trail in the heart of campus whe-re Weiser was killed is currently closed and may remain so.

“We expect these kinds of recommendations to come f-rom the assessment,” Carter said.

Jeanne Clery’s father passed away in 2008, but her mother gave the keynote address in November on the 25th anniversary of the Clery Act.

“In the beginning they were met with resistance f-rom institutions of higher education, and she’s really seen a paradigm shift whe-re there has been more awareness around safety and security,” Kiss said of Connie Clery’s remarks.

The Clerys, Kiss recalled, often said “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

Author: Yahoo News

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