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Texas trial begins for man accused of stalking older people, killing 18

Billy Chemirmir faces life in prison if convicted in the death of Lu Thi Harris, 81.
Elderly Deaths-Trial
Posted at 7:50 AM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 08:50:33-05

DALLAS — A woman who authorities say survived an attack by a man charged with killing 18 older women in Dallasand its suburbs over a two-year span said in a taped deposition shown to jurors as his trial opened Monday that she knew she was in "grave danger" the minute she opened her 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," Mary Annis Bartel said on the video.

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 on the charge.

Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018 following the attack on Bartel at her apartment at an independent living community for seniors in Plano. Bartel was 91 at the time of the attack and died in 2020.

She said that she tried to push the door shut but was overpowered. "He said: 'Don't fight me, lie on the bed,'" Bartel said.

Bartel described a pillow being smashed into her face and her attacker "using 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.

When police tracked Chemirmir to his nearby apartment the next day, he was holding jewelry and cash. Documents in a large red 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, he 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.