Testimony on the third day of the trial of accused serial killer Billy Chemirmir was delayed Wednesday morning as lawyers argued over whether Chemirmir should wear a face mask.
Dallas County District Attorney Glen Fitzmartin argued his witnesses may not be able to identify Chemirmir simply because he is wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, a witness who allegedly saw Chemirmir at Preston Place Retirement Community in Plano failed to identify him. Fitzmartin offered to provide Chemirmir with a clear plastic face shield instead.
“I think it is for the sake of fairness that my witnesses can watch him as he was looking at the time,” Fitzmartin said. “He’s wearing a mask. This is what thieves do so that they are not identified.
But defense attorneys Kobby Warren and Mark Watson objected. They argued that Chemirmir had to be able to wear his glasses to see and that the face shield was not suitable for glasses. Warren also objected to asking Chemirmir to briefly remove his mask if witnesses are asked to identify him in the courtroom.
“I think it’s detrimental to force him to do that and we’re going to oppose it,” Warren said.
After hearing the arguments, District State Judge Raquel “Rocky” Jones left the courtroom and did not publicly announce her decision.
Watson asked the judge to declare the trial canceled because the debate was being broadcast live on local media. The courtroom is closed to the public to stop the spread of COVID-19. Jones denied the request.
Wednesday is the third day of the trial.
When testimony resumed at around 9:40 a.m., jurors heard from the Dallas Police Detective. Scott Sayer and saw surveillance footage from a Walmart on Arapaho Road.
The footage showed Chemirmir inside the Walmart along with Lu Thi Harris, 81, who was found dead at her home later that day. Chemirmir is accused of following Harris to his Far North Dallas home and suffocating her to death with a pillow. Prosecutors say Chemirmir then stole Harris’s jewelry and money.
Chemirmir has been charged with 18 counts of capital murder in Dallas and Collin counties. In total, he has been linked in police records, civil lawsuits and medical examiners’ reports to at least two dozen deaths.
Chemirmir and his defense team say he’s innocent. He faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted. Prosecutors are not asking for the death penalty.
Defense attorneys disputed the detective’s testimony by pointing out that Harris arrived at Walmart nearly 40 minutes before Chemirmir and in no video footage the two appear to be speaking to each other. Chemirmir exited the parking lot about two minutes before Harris, Warren pointed out.
Sayer, the detective, had testified that Chemirmir had stalled his car while Harris was driving the grocery cart from his car to the cart corral. Warren suggested that Chemirmir give way to pedestrians.
Prosecutors can also call experts in mobile phone technology to testify as to how Chemirmir’s phone shows he was in the area at the time of Harris’ death.
Chemirmir’s defense attorneys, who did not make an opening statement, did not have many questions for the witnesses. The defense will have a chance to present their own evidence once lead prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin completes his case, although both sides still expect the trial to be completed by the end of the week.
On Monday, jurors heard from Mary Bartel, who survived an attack at age 91 in her apartment in Plano. Police suspected Chemirmir in the attack and waited in his apartment to arrest him. A Plano detective testified that officers watched him throw a jewelry box into a dumpster. The jewelry box included a piece of paper with Harris’s name on it.
On Tuesday, Dallas detectives said they found Harris’ body at her home, and her son-in-law testified about her life as a Vietnam War refugee and gracious figure. Richard Rinehart testified that she often gave friends and family members $ 2 bills as a gift – and Chemirmir was arrested while holding an envelope with her handwriting full of $ 2 bills.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the courtroom is closed to the public. The trial will also be broadcast live. on the court’s YouTube page.