Suspect in killings of 22 elderly Texans goes on trial again

FILE - Accused serial killer Billy Chemirmir looks back during his retrial on April 25, 2022,...
FILE - Accused serial killer Billy Chemirmir looks back during his retrial on April 25, 2022, at Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas. A man who has been charged with killing 22 women in the Dallas area is set to go on trial in the death of an 87-year-old woman. Billy Chemirmir's capital murder trial in the death of Mary Brooks is scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Dallas.(Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool, File)
Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:03 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT
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DALLAS (AP) — A man accused of killing 22 elderly women in the Dallas area and stealing jewelry and valuables has been linked by DNA evidence to one of the deaths, a prosecutor said Monday. The development could counter earlier defense claims that all the evidence against Billy Chemirmir is circumstantial.

Chemirmir, 49, is on trial for capital murder in the death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks.

It’s Chemirmir’s third trial. His first trial, in the smothering death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris, ended in a mistrial last November when the jury deadlocked. He was retried and found guilty in April and sentenced to life without parole. If convicted in Brooks’ death, he’ll receive a second sentence of life without parole.

Prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin said in opening statements that while presenting evidence 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 to make an opening statement.

His 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.

Before Bartel died in 2020, she described the attack in a taped interview that was played to jurors Monday, as it was in the earlier trials. She said the minute she opened her door and saw a man wearing green rubber gloves, she knew she was in “grave danger.”

“He said: ‘Don’t fight me, lie on the bed,’” Bartel said.

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.

Following Chemirmir’s arrest, police across the Dallas area reexamined the deaths of other older people that had been considered natural, even as their families discovered missing jewelry.

He has been charged with 22 counts of capital murder in deaths spanning May 2016 to March 2018. Four of those indictments were added this summer.

Evidence presented at previous trials showed Harris and Chemirmir were checking out at the same time at a Walmart just hours before she was found dead.

According to evidence, Brooks had gone shopping at the same Walmart just weeks earlier. When Brooks was at the Walmart, Chemirmir was sitting in his car in the parking lot, watching people, Fitzmartin said.

“She leaves, he leaves. His phone, you will hear, follows from the Walmart to her house,” Fitzmartin said. “She arrives at her house and she’s not heard from again, ever.”

The day after that trip to Walmart, Brooks’ grandson found her dead in her condo, groceries still in bags on the counter.

Most of the people Chemirmir is accused of killing lived in apartments at independent living communities for older people. 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.

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.

Fitzmartin said Monday that Williams and Bartel lived in the same community, and that Williams had been found dead in her apartment about two weeks before the attack on Bartel.

As Williams’ family cleaned out her home, they discovered “there was something not right,” including missing items and a pillow with an odd stain, he said.

DNA found on that pillow can’t exclude Chemirmir, Fitzmartin said, and a search of Chemirmir’s vehicle turned up gloves with DNA that was a match for Williams.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, a Democrat, sought life sentences rather than the death penalty when he tried Chemirmir on two of his 13 capital murder cases.

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.