Man on trial in Texas woman's death said he didn't kill her

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The Dallas Morning News

Brian Tabor, lead detective on the case, watches his interrogation video of defendant Billy Chemirmir during the capital murder trial at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Chemirmir, 48, faces life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder for smothering Lu Thi Harris, 81, and stealing her jewelry. He is accused of killing at least 18 women in Dallas and Collin counties. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

DALLAS – A man charged with killing 18 Dallas-area women told a police detective in a taped interview played at his murder trial Wednesday that less than an hour before his arrest, a man whose name he didn't know had sold him jewelry. A relative earlier testified that the jewelry belonged to a woman Billy Chemirmir is accused of slaying.

“It just doesn’t make any sense, what you’re telling me,” Dallas Detective Brian Tabor tells Chemirmir during the interview.

Chemirmir is accused of capital murder in the death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.

In the interview with Tabor, who has since retired from the force, Chemirmir repeatedly denied killing Harris or going to her home.

“I’ve never murdered anybody,” Chemirmir told the detective.

Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018 after 91-year-old Mary Annis Bartel survived an attack at her apartment at an independent living community for seniors in Plano.

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.

Chemirmir told Tabor he made money by buying and selling jewelry and had also worked as an at-home caregiver and as a security guard.

Chemirmir said he typically bought jewelry online, but that he purchased the jewelry he had when he was arrested in person from a man who told him he had a batch of jewelry for Chemirmir to look at.

“He came to my apartment, 20 minutes before I was arrested,” Chemirmir said.

Chemirmir said he got what he wanted from the jewelry box and then threw the box away because he didn't want it.

When Tabor asks the man's name, Chemirmir replies: “He didn't tell me."

Harris’ son-in-law, Richard Rinehart, testified Tuesday that the discarded jewelry box belonged to his mother-in-law, as did numerous pieces of jewelry that officers found as they arrested Chemirmir.

Tabor testified in court Wednesday that Chemirmir “struggled for the details of who he met, how much he paid for the jewelry box.”

Jurors also saw surveillance video from a Walmart showing that Harris and Chemirmir were at the store at the same time, just hours before she was found dead. Chemirmir told the detective that he had been at the Walmart.

Evidence presented at trial has shown that Chemirmir was also in possession of numerous $2 bills at the time. Rinehart testified Tuesday that his mother-in-law loved giving them as gifts. Chemirmir said on the tape that he had bought the $2 bills in Fort Worth a few days earlier.

Police have also said that a set of keys found with Chemirmir when he was arrested opened the front doors of Harris' home.

Following Chemirmir's 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.

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 says the evidence against Chemirmir is circumstantial.