The retrial of a man accused of killing 18 elderly Dallas-area women over a two-year period is set to begin Monday, after the first jury deadlocked in hearing a case against him.
DALLAS — The retrial of a man accused of killing 18 elderly Dallas-area women over a two-year period is set to begin Monday, after the first jury to hear a case against him deadlocked.
Billy Chemirmir, 49, faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the choking of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris. Prosecutors said he followed the widow to Walmart, killed her and stole her jewelry and money.
Chemirmir faces capital murder charges in the 18 female deaths — 13 in Dallas County and five in neighboring Collin County. However, he is currently only to be tried for Harris’ death. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, who is not seeking the death penalty for Harris’ murder, said he plans to try Chemirmir for at least one more death, although he has no clarified who it was.
Chemirmir maintained that he is innocent.
Loren Adair Smith, whose 91-year-old mother Phyllis Payne is among those charged with Chemirmir’s murder, said she was shocked by the mistrial in November and planned to attend the new court case.
“We want justice and we want closure, and we want him to not be able to hurt anyone anymore,” Smith said.
Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018 after 91-year-old Mary Annis Bartel said a man broke into her apartment in an independent living community for the elderly and held a pillow to her face. Bartel, who survived the attack, later discovered that he was missing jewelry.
According to police, when officers followed Chemirmir to his nearby apartment after the attack, he was holding jewelry and cash. Documents in a large red jewelry box that police say he had just thrown away led them to a house, where Harris had died in her bedroom, lipstick smeared on her pillow.
The number of people accused of killing Chemirmir rose after his arrest, with most families of his alleged victims only learning months or years after their loved one’s death that authorities believed he had been killed .
Most of those accused of killing Chemirmir were found dead in their apartments in independent living communities for the elderly, where he allegedly forced his way in or posed as a handyman. He is also accused of killing women in private homes, including the widow of a man he cared for in his job as a home caregiver.
Although Chemirmir was not tried until November for the death of Harris, jurors were also told about the attack on Bartel and the murder of Mary Brooks, 87, who was found dead in her home around six weeks before Chemirmir’s arrest.
Chemirmir told police in a videotaped interview shown during his trial that he made money buying and selling jewelry and had also worked as a home carer and security guard.
Chemirmir’s lawyers closed their case without calling witnesses or presenting evidence. They dismissed the evidence against their client as “quantity rather than quality” and claimed that prosecutors had failed to prove Chemirmir’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin disputed that claim. He said he proved that Chemirmir and Harris were at a Walmart at the same time, that two and a half hours later he was in possession of her property and that she had been suffocated.
Creuzot told the Dallas Morning News, “Indirect evidence can sometimes be stronger than eyewitness testimony. So in a case like this, it’s very important that the jury and every juror understand that.”
Toby Shook, a former Dallas County prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, said he expects during the retrial prosecutors will “change their preparation or presentation of some of their witnesses to to make their case clearer to the jury”.
“It was surprising that a hung jury resulted in the state having the advantage of offering multiple offenses to the jury and that is a powerful weapon the state has in a case like this,” said Shook, who is not involved in the case.
Smith said her family had assumed her mother’s death six years ago in her apartment at an independent living center was of natural causes, although it came as a shock because she was still so active. She said while packing her mother’s belongings, they discovered missing jewelry and filed a police report, but assumed the items had been taken by someone after her death.
Smith said a police detective called two years later to say investigators believed her mother had been killed. She said that after so many years, a conviction would bring closure and “a great feeling that justice has prevailed”.