DALLAS (AP) — A man charged with killing 22 elderly women in the Dallas area over a two-year span was found guilty Friday in one of their deaths — his second murder conviction.
With the verdict, Billy Chemirmir, 49, automatically received a second sentence of life without parole, this time for the smothering death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks. Jurors took less than 30 minutes to reach the verdict against Chemirmir, who was already sentenced to life in prison without parole for an April conviction in the death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris.
Authorities allege that he preyed on older women, killing them and stealing their valuables. Time after time, their deaths were initially determined to be from natural causes, even as family members raised alarm bells about missing jewelry.
“This is a conscious, dedicated effort to stalk, surveil, kill, steal, strip and sell,” Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in closing arguments.
Creuzot decided against seeking the death penalty. After Friday's verdict he said the two sentences mean Chemirmir is "going to die in a penitentiary.”
Creuzot said the 11 additional capital murder cases against Chemirmir in Dallas County will now be dismissed. Prosecutors in neighboring Collin County haven’t yet said if they will try any of their nine capital murder cases against Chemirmir, who has maintained his innocence.
Prosecutors told jurors that the evidence showed that Chemirmir followed Brooks home from Walmart, smothered her and took her jewelry.
One woman’s survival of a March 2018 attack set Chemirmir’s arrest in motion. Mary Annis Bartel, then-91, told police a man forced his way into her apartment at an independent living community for seniors, tried to smother her with a pillow and took her jewelry.
After Chemirmir's arrest, police across the Dallas area reexamined deaths and the charges against him grew. Many of the victims’ children have said they were left perplexed by the deaths at the time, as their mothers, though older, were still healthy and active. Four indictments were added this summer.
Most lived in apartments at independent living communities for older people. One woman who lived in a private home was the widow of a man Chemirmir cared for while working as an at-home caregiver.
Defense attorneys told the jury that prosecutors hadn’t presented enough evidence to convict.
“They are begging that you plug in the holes that they cannot,” defense attorney Phillip Hayes said in his closing argument.
After the verdict, he told reporters that he plans to appeal.
While jurors this week were deciding Chemirmir’s guilt only in Brooks’ death, they also heard evidence that led to his conviction in Harris’ death as well as details related to the death of 80-year-old Martha Williams. Prosecutors for the first time presented DNA evidence linking Chemirmir to one of the deaths — Williams'.
The jury also heard testimony that Chemirmir was in either in possession of jewelry and valuables belonging to the women or had offered pieces for sale and that cellphone records put him in the vicinity of the victims.
Before Bartel died in 2020, she described the attack in a taped interview that has been played at Chemirmir’s trials. She said the minute she opened her door and saw a man wearing rubber gloves, she knew she was in “grave danger.”
Police testified they found Chemirmir the next day in the parking lot of his apartment complex holding jewelry and cash, having just thrown away a large red jewelry box. Documents in the jewelry box led them to the home of Harris, who was found dead in her bedroom, lipstick smeared on her pillow.
Evidence presented at trial showed that just hours before Harris was found dead, Chemirmir was at the Walmart where Harris was shopping.
When Brooks' grandson had found her dead in her condo several weeks earlier, grocery bags from a trip to the same Walmart were sitting out on her counter. Surveillance video showed a car matching the description of Chemirmir's pulling out just after Brooks and going in the same direction.
Brooks' daughter, Ann Brooks, said after the verdict that her family was “thrilled that this defendant will never be able to hurt any other family again.”
“Our beloved mother, Mary Sue, her life is over and her jewelry is gone, but her love and her memories will live in us forever,” she said.