DALLAS (AP) — Trial began Monday for a man accused of killing 18 older women over a two-year span in the Dallas area, with jurors hearing a taped deposition from a woman who said her attacker smashed a pillow into her face and used “all his weight to keep me from breathing.”
Billy Chemirmir, 48, faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. His attorney entered a not guilty plea for him on Monday the charge.
Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018 following the attack on Mary Bartel at her apartment at a senior living community in Plano. Bartel, who was 91 at the time of the attack and died in 2020, said in the video that she knew she was in trouble the moment she answered the door.
“My eyes were just fixated on these green rubber gloves that I saw. … I knew instantly when I saw those two green rubber gloves, number one, I should not have opened the door, number two, my life was in grave danger,” she said.
Bartel said she tried to push the door shut but was overpowered.
“He said: ‘Don’t fight me, lie on the bed,'” said Bartel, who lost consciousness.
Bartel, who 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.
When police tracked Chemirmir to his nearby apartment the next day, he was holding jewelry and cash. A jewelry box police say he had just thrown away led them to a Dallas home, where Harris was dead in her bedroom, lipstick smeared on her pillow.
In opening statements, prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin said that earlier that day, Harris and Chemirmir had been checking out at the same time at a Walmart store.
“This is a case about stalking, smothering and stealing,” Fitzmartin told the jury.
After his arrest, authorities announced they would review hundreds of deaths, signaling the possibility that a serial killer had been stalking older people. Over the following years, the number of people Chemirmir was accused of killing grew.
Fitzmartin said jurors would also be hearing about the killing of 87-year-old Mary Brooks, who was found dead in her Richardson home in January 2018. Chemirmir has been charged in her death.
He said that Brooks’ death had originally been called a natural death, but after an investigation following the arrest of Chemirmir, the medical examiner changed the cause of death to homicide.
Fitzmartin said that the day before Brooks was found dead, she was at a Walmart, the same Walmart that Harris was at before her death later in the year. Fitzmartin said that a vehicle model known to be driven by Chemirmir was parked next to Brooks’ vehicle.
“He follows her out of there, follows her to her house, kills her, steals from her,” Fitzmartin said.
Most of the victims were killed 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.
The defense did not make an opening statement. Chemirmir’s attorney has called the evidence against Chemirmir circumstantial.