The retrial of a man charged with killing 18 older women in the Dallas area over a two-year span began Monday, after the first jury to hear a case against him deadlocked last fall.
The start of the trial for Billy Chemirmir, 49, was delayed by several hours after a juror did not show up on time. Chemirmir faces life in prison without parole if he’s convicted of capital murder in the March 2018 smothering of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris.
Chemirmir’s attorney entered a not guilty plea for him Monday on the charge. Chemirmir has maintained that he’s innocent.
Though Chemirmir is only being tried in Harris’ death, prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin told jurors during his opening statements that they will also hear evidence that Chemirmir attacked 91-year-old Mary Annis Bartel the day before Harris was killed and that he killed 87-year-old Mary Brooks about six weeks earlier.
“These are some of the most vulnerable people that we have in our community — three elderly women,” Fitzmartin said.
Chemirmir faces capital murder charges in all 18 of the women’s deaths — 13 in Dallas County and five in nearby Collin County. However, he’s currently only scheduled to stand trial in the death of Harris. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, who isn’t seeking the death penalty for Harris’ killing, has said he plans to try Chemirmir for at least one more death, though he hasn’t said whose.
The defense declined to make an opening statement on Monday.
Chemirmir was arrested after Bartel said a man forced his way into her apartment at an independent living community for older people and held a pillow over her face.
Fitzmartin said that after the attack on Bartel, police found that a few days before there had been a report of a suspicious person at the independent living center where she lived. A license plate number then led officers to Chemirmir.
Police detectives testified about going to his nearby apartment complex, watching as he drove into the parking lot. Detectives said he threw items into a dumpster and then, as they got him out of his vehicle, he was holding jewelry and cash in his hand.
Police have said that a large red jewelry box found in the dumpster contained documents that led them to Harris’ home, where the widow was found dead in her bedroom, lipstick smeared on her pillow.
Fitzmartin said evidence will show that about two hours before Chemirmir was found with Harris’ items, including her house keys, they had both been at the same Walmart.
Fitzmartin said evidence will show that Chemirmir listed jewelry that belonged to Bartel and Brooks on an online selling site. He said that Brooks and Chemirmir were also at the same Walmart prior to her death.
“All of this evidence is going to be overwhelming for you all,” Fitzmartin said.
As in the first trial, jurors on Monday were shown a taped deposition with Bartel, who died in 2020. She said that on the day she was attacked, she’d opened her door after hearing an “insistent” knocking and immediately fixated on green rubber gloves the person was wearing.
Bartel said she tried to push the door shut but was overpowered. “He said: ‘Don’t fight me, lie on the bed,’” she said. She said her attacker “slammed” the pillow to her face and used “all his weight to keep me from breathing.”
Bartel, who lost consciousness during the attack and later discovered she was missing her wedding band, diamond engagement ring and other jewelry, said she couldn’t remember details about the appearance of the man who attacked her.
The number of people Chemirmir was accused of killing grew after his arrest, with most of the families of his alleged victims only learning months or years after their loved one’s death that authorities believed they had been killed.
Most of the people Chemirmir is accused of killing were found dead in their apartments at independent living communities for older people, where he allegedly forced his way in or posed as a handyman. He’s also accused of killing women in private homes, including the widow of a man he had cared for in his job as an at-home caregiver.