Billy Chemirmir, a man accused of killing 18 people — 13 in Dallas County and five in nearby Collin County — over a 2-year span, was found guilty of capital murder in the death of Lu Thi Harris Thursday afternoon.
Chemirmir will receive an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole.
"We are pleased with the outcome of this trial. This is a just verdict and a delayed sense of justice the families of Lu Thi Harris, Mary Bartel, Mary Brooks and Mr. Chemirmir's other alleged victims so crave and deserve," Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in a statement. "We are thankful to the jury for their service and to the families impacted by this case for entrusting the Dallas County District Attorney's Office with this carriage of justice."
NBC 5's Katy Blakey, who was in the courtroom when the verdict was read, said you could see the relief wash over the faces of the victim's families in the courtroom. "Some cried," Blakey tweeted. "One gave prosecutors a thumbs up."
The trial was the second attempt to find Chemirmir guilty of killing Harris following a mistrial five months ago where the jury ended up deadlocked 11-1.
The family members of the Chemirmir's alleged victims said after the mistrial they were stunned there was a holdout juror after four days of compelling testimony.
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For this trial, with COVID-19 protocols eased, families were allowed in the courtroom during the trial. Cliff Harris, whose mother-in-law Miriam Nelson was one of Chemirmir's alleged victims, said he found himself sitting behind the defendant during part of the trial.
"I was sitting right there behind Billy Chemirmir all that time and I just tell ya, you just knew, you could feel evil there and see the terrible things that he's done," Harris said.
To date, Chemirmir has been indicted on 18 capital murder charges for the deaths of Leah Corken, 83, Juanita Purdy, 82, Mary Brooks, 88, Minnie Campbell, 84, Ann Conklin, 82, Rosemary Curtis, 75, Norma French, 85, Doris Gleason, 92, Lu Thi Harris, 81, Carolyn MacPhee, 81, Miriam Nelson, 81, Phyllis Payne, 91, Phoebe Perry, 94, Martha Williams, 80, Joyce Abramowitz, 82, Margaret White, 86, Doris Wasserman, 90, and Glenna Day, 87.
"On behalf of the many victims we are incredibly relieved that justice is finally here," said the daughter of one of the victims.
He has also been linked through medical examiner reports and civil case filings in six other deaths, bringing the total to 24 deaths in North Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Investigators initially believed the victims died from natural causes. However, family members reported stolen items or suspicious circumstances. It was only after Chemirmir was arrested that the cases were reopened.
A capital murder charge in Texas carries one of two punishments, either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dallas County prosecutors initially filed paperwork to seek the death penalty but reversed that decision in 2021.
STATE, DEFENSE REST THURSDAY IN CHEMIRMIR RETRIAL
After about an hour into Day 4 of the trial Thursday morning, following testimony with Dallas Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jeffrey Barnard about his experience with smothering cases, the state rested its case against Chemirmir.
The court took a short break after Barnard's testimony. When the trial resumed, the defense rested without calling any witnesses just as they did in the first trial.
At 11:25 a.m., Judge Raquel "Rocky" Jones put the court in recess while she finalized the charges and instructions for the jury and to allow for lunch.
At 2 p.m., closing arguments began. Each side was given 45 minutes to present their remarks. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and Glen Fitzmartin split the closing for the state while attorney Kobby Warren handled the remarks for the defense.
At 3:34 p.m., the case was turned over to the jury who began deliberating the verdict. At about 4:13 p.m. the jury call light came on, indicating a verdict had been reached.
The case focused on the death of Lu Harris, but prosecutors brought in the death of Mary Brooks and the near fatal attack of Mary Annis Bartel to show jurors a pattern of how they say he stalked, smothered and stole from his victims.
Chemirmir received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
The first jury to hear a case against him failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
CHEMIRMIR TRIAL STARTED MONDAY AFTER A DELAY
Chemirmir's second trial began Monday afternoon after being delayed by several hours when a juror did not show up on time.
Once it started Chemirmir's attorney entered a not guilty plea for him. Chemirmir has maintained that he's innocent.
During his opening statement, prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin set the stage for building the case against Chemirmir. "All of this evidence is going to be overwhelming for you all," Fitzmartin said.
The defense declined to make an opening statement on Monday.
DAY 2 OF CHEMIRMIR TRIAL FOCUSED ON LU THI HARRIS' DEATH AND PROPERTY FOUND
The police officers who found the 81-year-old dead inside her home testified and the jury saw the pillow with smeared lipstick prosecutors believed was used as a murder weapon.
Harris' son-in-law, Richard Rinehart, took the stand to talk about her life.
DAY 3 OF CHEMIRMIR TRIAL FOCUSED ON HIS CELL PHONE DATA, STOLEN PROPERTY
On Wednesday prosecutors focused on connecting Chemirmir to three crimes - the attack on Mary Annis Bartel, the death of Lu Harris and the death of Mary Sue Brooks.
A Plano detective who examined Chemirmir's phone testified that she found photos of stolen jewelry belonging to Bartel and Brooks and a Richardson detective testified about how police linked Brooks' death to Chemirmir.
The state wrapped up with an FBI expert on cell phone analysis linking Chemirmir to all three crimes. More witnesses are expected to be called Thursday.
CHEMIRMIR MAY FACE ANOTHER TRIAL
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has said his office plans to try one more other case, but has not announced which case. It's unclear how Collin County prosecutors will proceed with their five capital murder cases.
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.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated the defense would begin presenting evidence, in day four of the trial the state still has more witnesses to call.