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Delayed again: Dallas juror late for trial of accused serial killer

Opening statements in his retrial were set to begin around 9 a.m., but one juror was missing.

DALLAS — Five months after his mistrial, accused serial killer Billy Chemirmir's case was again delayed Monday, at least for a few hours.

Opening statements in his retrial were set to begin around 9 a.m., but one juror was missing.

Shortly after 11 a.m., the juror was located. As it turned out, officials said, he had gone to work instead of court. 

After waiting on the juror for a couple hours, Judge Raquel Jones had officially put the court in recess shortly before 11 a.m. and ordered a Dallas County constable to go to the 22-year-old man's house and try to find him.

"Let the manhunt begin," Jones said in court.

The juror, who is a construction worker, was found at work after the court called his boss. 

When the juror arrived at court, he told the judge he forgot he had to be there. 

The judge asked, "Can you be an impartial juror?" 

The juror answered, "yes," and was allowed to stay on the jury. 

After the four-hour delay, the trial finally began with lead prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin giving opening statements. 

"You are going to hear how he attacked not just one but three different individuals leaving them for dead,” said Fitzmartin. 

Chemirmir, who was initially arrested in 2019, is charged with 18 murders of elderly victims but is being re-tried only in the case of Lu Harris. He’s accused of stalking, smothering and then stealing from his victims.

In November, he was first tried for the murder of Harris, but a "hopelessly deadlocked" jury resulted in Jones declaring a mistrial. Jurors told Jones that one juror refused to change her stance on the trial. Despite repeated instructions from Jones to keep deliberating, the jury could not come to a consensus.

The jury heard video testimony from Mary Bartel, who was attacked on March 19, 2018 -- a day before Harris was found dead in her home in Dallas. 

Prosecutors said she is the only one who survived an attack. 

Bartel died before she could testify, but the state had a recorded deposition.

"He smashed the pillow down on my face and chest and I couldn’t breathe,” said Bartel. 

Prosecutors hope the large amount of circumstantial evidence will be enough to convict this time. 

District Attorney John Creuzot was in the courtroom Monday for the proceedings. He is expected to give closing arguments. 

Some of the victims’ families left the courtroom Monday in tears. It’s the first time they saw the man accused of killing their loved ones in person. 

Background on the case 

In Lu Harris’ case, police testified they saw him throw her jewelry box in a dumpster near his apartment in Dallas. He was already on their radar after his car was spotted at one of the crime scenes in Collin County, so officers were following him.

Prosecutors showed the jury the pillow they say was used to smother Harris with her lipstick still on it. They said after he killed Harris, he sold her jewelry on the Offer Up app. They recovered some it. 

Jurors also heard recorded testimony from Mary Bartell. Police believe Bartell was the only one of the alleged victims who survived her attack. Bartell taped a testimony before she died.

“He smashed a pillow on my face and chest,” said Bartell.

Prosecutors had the videos, cellphone records and even one of the victim’s house keys found on Chemirmir, but what they didn’t have was any forensic evidence linking him to any of the crimes.

“That’s what this whole case is about, reasonable doubt and it is rampant,” said defense attorney Kobby Warren.

Chemirmir lived in independent living facilities where detectives say he robbed residents of their jewelry and then suffocated them.  

But despite the long list of charges against Chemirmir, Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot told the victims' families in June 2021 he would not be seeking the death penalty.

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