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Killer convicted of preying on older Texas women killed by cellmate while serving life sentence

DALLAS — A Texas prisoner accused of killing 22 elderly women over two years, preying on them so he could steal jewelry and other valuables, was killed Tuesday by his cellmate while was serving a life sentence, prison officials said.

Billy Chemirmir, 50, who was convicted last year of killing two women, was found dead in his cell at a prison in rural East Texas, said Hannah Haney, a department spokeswoman. of Texas Criminal Justice. He was killed by his cellmate who was also serving a prison sentence for murder, according to Haney.

Chemirmir’s death comes about two weeks after all 100 Texas prisons were placed on a rare statewide lockdown due to a surge in murders inside the facilities, which , according to prison officials, were drug-related.

Haney did not release the name of the cellmate, how Chemirmir was killed or what may have led to the killing.

Family members of those he was accused of killing expressed shock and relief at the news.

“My mother is scared to death. This man did not have a peaceful death. There’s some relief in feeling that he didn’t get off easy,” said Shannon Dion, whose 92-year-old mother, Doris Gleason, was among those charged with Chemirmir’s murder, during a press conference.

Time and again, deaths in Dallas and nearby cities were initially determined to be due to natural causes, even though family members raised the alarm about missing jewelry.

Chemirmir was arrested after a 91-year-old woman survived an attack in 2018 and told police a man forced his way into her apartment at a senior independent living community, attempted to smother her with a pillow and took her jewelry.

Police said they found Chemirmir the next day in the parking lot of her apartment complex with jewelry and cash, after she threw out a large red jewelry box. The documents in the jewelry box led them to the home of Lu Thi Harris, 81, who died in her bedroom.

After Chemirmir’s arrest, police in the region re-examined the deaths and the charges against him increased. Many of the victims’ children reported being perplexed by the deaths at the time because their mothers, although older, were still healthy and active.

Chemirmir’s first capital murder trial for Harris’ murder ended in a mistrial in Dallas County. He was later convicted in a retrial for Harris’ death, then was found guilty of a second murder in the death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks.

Following his second conviction, family members of murder accused Chemirmir gathered in a Dallas courtroom to confront him. Ellen French House showed Chemirmir two photos of her mother: one of Norma French alive, the other after the 85-year-old’s murder.

“This is my beautiful mother,” House said, displaying the first photo. “She’s my mother after you took her wedding ring off her finger and she couldn’t even take it off.”

Most of the victims lived in apartments in independent nursing homes. One woman who lived in a private home was the widow of a man Chemirmir cared for while she worked as a home health aide.

Chemirmir had been charged with 22 counts of capital murder. Thirteen of the charges were in Dallas County, while nine were in neighboring Collin County. Following the two convictions in Dallas County, prosecutors dismissed the remaining 11 charges. They did not ask for the death penalty. Last month, Collin County prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty either.

Chemirmir, who maintained his innocence, was serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole. He was imprisoned at the Coffield Unit in the Tennessee Colony, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.

Chemirmir’s lawyer, Phillip Hayes, said his death was “just a horrible tragedy.”

“No one deserves to be killed, at any time, especially when you are in a place where you are being held against your will,” Hayes said.

Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was implementing lockdown measures in response to “an increase in inmate homicides related to dangerous contraband and drugs.” At the time of that Sept. 6 announcement, the department said there had been 16 inmate-on-inmate homicides so far this year. In 2021, there have been nine such killings; in 2022, there were seven.

With confinement, prisons limited the movements of prisoners and their contacts with foreigners. In addition, inmates and staff were subject to intensified searches. An enhanced drug testing protocol was also implemented.

Department spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez said once the extensive search was completed, units returned to normal operations. She said that on Tuesday, the lockdown was lifted in 75 units. The Coffield unit, where Chemirmir was imprisoned, was among 25 units still under lockdown.

Haney said the Office of Inspector General is investigating his death.