Suspected Kenyan-born serial killer faces death penalty in US
A Kenyan-born man is staring at the possibility of getting the death penalty for allegedly killing more than 22 grandmothers at care homes for the elderly in the United States.
Billy Chemirmir, 47, was born and raised in Kabunyony Village in Eldama Ravine, Baringo, before moving to the US in the 1990s after his elder sister secured him a visa.
On marrying an American woman, he became an American citizen through naturalisation.
But, today, he is cooling his heels at the Dallas County jail after he was accused of suffocating at least 22 old women at independent living complexes in Dallas, Texas.
He has been charged with the capital murder of 14 senior citizens while families have separately accused him of killing eight more grandmothers in care homes.
Some families of the murder victims have sued the company that owns one of the homes, The Tradition-Prestonwood, claiming it had failed to protect the residents.
His alleged victims include Juanita Purdy, who died in July 2016, and Leah Corken, who died in August 2016, according to The Dallas Morning News.
According to Dallas police, the string of murders was committed at various care homes, including seven at Preston Place home, dating back to 2016.
Police say the accused posed as a maintenance worker to gain entry into apartments and homes before smothering residents with pillows and stealing valuables to sell online.
Investigations into the loss of the valuables, which included gold chains and rings, blew Chemirmir’s cover as detectives made a major breakthrough in their investigations in 2018.
Police say Chemirmir was arrested after he was spotted dumping a gold chain into a dumpster after realising that detectives were pursuing him.
Chemirmir, who was locked up in prison after failing to raise a bail of $11.6 million (Sh1.18 billion), faces the death penalty if convicted.
In Texas, capital murder carries either the death penalty, or a life sentence without parole.
And, even though prosecutors reserve the death penalty for crimes deemed especially heinous, legal pundits says Chemirmir’s goose is already cooked because beyond the courts, the case has seized national imagination with different parties citing it to suit their arguments.
The case has been getting complicated by the day as new victims spring up and new suits are added on to the previous ones.
In most of the new cases, the cause of death had been indicated as natural but families now believe Chemirmir killed their grandparents.
For instance, a new suit has identified two more alleged victims of smothering.
Among those named is Miriam Nelson, mother-in-law of former American football star Cliff Harris.
Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018 after Ms Harris was found dead in her home with a pillow near her, and her make-up smeared on it.
According to Dallas police, during a surveillance prompted by a relative’s suspicion, the police found Chemirmir throwing some items into a dumpster.
“During the arrest, Chemirmir was holding jewellery and money. In the dumpster, the officers found a jewellery box containing jewellery and a woman’s name. They were able to associate the name with an address in the city of Dallas,” the police report says.
“Dallas police officers went to the address and found the victim, Lu Thi Harris, an 81-year-old Asian female, dead from homicidal violence.”
Chemirmir was taken to Dallas police headquarters and interrogated before a capital murder warrant was obtained and executed for the suspect with a bond.
Detectives also started tracking the suspect’s activities after two other families reported they suspected he had been responsible for the deaths of two other old women.
Chemirmir was also linked to another attempted murder and robbery incident.
Before his arrest, he had been under surveillance after he reportedly attempted to smother another 93-year-old woman in October 2017.
The elderly woman told police that Mr Chemirmir entered her house posing as a maintenance worker, pushed her to the ground and attempted to suffocate her with a pillow.
In March 2018, the Associated Press reported that the police in the Dallas suburb of Plano suspected that Chemirmir may have been behind the attempted murder of another 91-year-old woman in her apartment.
“The woman was smothered with a pillow into unconsciousness and robbed. However, Plano paramedics revived her and she told investigators that her attacker had stolen a box containing her jewellery,” the AP reported.
The news agency also said police identified Chemirmir from a licence plate number and were able to find and tail him when they watched him throw a jewellery box into a trash bin.
In his prison cell, Chemirmir maintained he is innocent.
He is represented by a court-appointed attorney, Phillip Hayes.
Soon after Chemirmir’s arrest in 2018 following suspicion that he could be a serial killer, his family and neighbours in Eldama Ravine described him as quiet and humble.
In the US, those who knew said he lived a life of exclusion.
“He didn’t want to mix with other Kenyans in Plano and he rarely attended Kenyan functions,” said a Kenyan who only wanted to be identified as Sam.
The serial killer case has shocked Kenyans living in Dallas, an American city that boasts a high concentration of Kenyans.
Many approached by the Nation are reluctant to comment on it, much less get involved.
“That case is sad but, beyond sadness, it’s a big stain on the reputation of the Kenyan community in Texas,” said a prominent Kenyan community leader living in Plano.
“That’s the reason no Kenyan wants to talk about it and, please, don’t quote me on this.”
John Namisi, a Kenyan living in Richardson, Texas, said Chemirmir’s case does not mean well for migrants.
“This case has provided green fodder for the so-called ultra-right groups which are exploiting it to drum up support for more restrictive immigration laws,” he said.
“In this kind of environment, regardless of whatever crimes he is accused of, it’s hard to imagine that Mr Chemirmir will get a fair hearing.”
Mr Namisi said this has completely complicated the case for Chemirmir because it is now being used as a political tool.
“In such a situation, you don’t expect much justice from the courts because what happens on TV often influences the jury and therefore the outcome of the case.”
A Kenyan attorney living in Dallas who did not want to be identified by name agreed with Namisi that right-wing media channels are using Chemirmir’s case to urge the Trump administration to clamp down on immigration.
They have been arguing that Chemirmir came to the US on a visitor’s visa and overstayed but used a loophole in immigration law by marrying an American woman.
This enabled him to acquire naturalised citizenship.
Additional reporting by Florah Koech