DALLAS (AP) — A man accused of killing 22 elderly women while stealing jewelry and other valuables in the Dallas area has been linked by DNA evidence to one of the deaths, a prosecutor said Monday as his third trial began. The development could counter earlier defense claims that all the evidence against him is circumstantial.
Billy Chemirmir, 49, is being tried for murder in the death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks. He was sentenced to life without parole after being found guilty in April in a retrial over the smothering death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris. If convicted in Brooks’ death, he’ll receive a second sentence of life without parole. His first trial in Harris’ death ended in a mistrial last November when the jury deadlocked.
Prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin said in opening statements that in addition to presenting evidence during this trial in the deaths of Brooks and Harris, he would also show that DNA links Chemirmir to the death of 80-year-old Martha Williams.
Chemirmir has maintained his innocence. His attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf Monday, but declined for now to make an opening statement.
In the years following his arrest in 2018, police across the Dallas area reexamined the deaths of other older people that had been considered natural — even though families raised alarm bells about missing jewelry. He was ultimately charged with 22 counts of capital murder in deaths that spanned from May 2016 to March 2018. Four of those indictments were added this summer.
In a video interview with police, Chemirmir told a detective that he made money buying and selling jewelry and had also worked as a caregiver and a security guard.
Most of the people Chemirmir is accused of killing lived in apartments at independent living communities for older people, where Chemirmir allegedly forced his way into apartments 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.
Chemirmir’s arrest was set in motion in March 2018 when Mary Annis Bartel — 91 at the time — told police that a man had forced his way into her apartment at an independent living community for seniors, tried to smother her with a pillow and took her jewelry.
Police said when they found Chemirmir the next day in the parking lot of his apartment complex, he was holding jewelry and cash, and had just thrown away a large red jewelry box. Documents in the box led them to the home of Harris, who was found dead in her bedroom, lipstick smeared on her pillow.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, a Democrat, decided to seek life sentences rather than the death penalty when he tried Chemirmir on two of his 13 capital murder cases in the county.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Creuzot said he’s not against the death penalty, but among things he considers when deciding whether to pursue it are the time it takes before someone is executed, the costs of appeals and whether the person would still be a danger to society behind bars. Chemirmir, he added, is “going to die in the penitentiary.”
Chemirmir’s attorneys said in his previous trials that prosecutors didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors in neighboring Collin County haven’t said if they will try any of their nine capital murder cases against Chemirmir.