The retrial of a man charged with killing 18 older women in the Dallas area over a two-year span began Monday afternoon after a delay due to a missing juror.
The start of the trial for Billy Chemirmir, 49, was delayed by several hours after a juror did not show up for court.
After being tracked down at work and brought to court by sheriff's deputies, the juror told the judge he forgot. Judge Raquel "Rocky" Jones ruled he could remain on the jury after he affirmed he would show up for the remainder of trial.
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.
Get DFW local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC DFW newsletters.
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.
The latest news from around North Texas.
The first capital murder case against Chemirmir in November 2021 ended in a mistrial when the jury said they were "hopelessly deadlocked" 11-1 following hours of deliberation.
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 Preston Place Retirement Community in Plano and held a pillow over her face.
Fitzmartin said that after the attack on Bartel, police found that a few days before they had gotten a call about a suspicious person at the independent living center where she lived and the license plate from that report led officers to Chemirmir.
According to police, when officers tracked Chemirmir to his nearby apartment, he was holding jewelry and cash. Documents in a large red jewelry box that police say he had just thrown away 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 from natural causes 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.
She said she tried to push the door shut but was overpowered. “He said: ‘Don’t fight me, lie on the bed,’” Bartel said. Bartel 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.
During the first trial victims' families were not allowed in the courtroom due to COVID protocols. This time they were allowed inside.
Some family members became noticeably emotional Monday morning seeing Billy Chemirmir up close for the first time.
Loren Adair Smith, whose 91-year-old mother, Phyllis Payne, is among those Chemirmir is charged with killing, said she was shocked by the mistrial in November and returned Monday for the retrial.
"We want justice and we want closure, and we want him to not be able to hurt anyone again," Smith said.
Most of the testimony provided Monday is similar to what was presented during the last trial, however the state is moving through witnesses at a quicker pace.
District Attorney John Creuzot was also present for the entire day of testimony sitting at the prosecution's table.
Court will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.