Prosecutors in Monroe County, northeastern Pennsylvania, are continuing in the trial of Rev. Arthur “A.B.” Schirmer for allegedly murdering both of his wives. County prosecutor Michael Mancuso told jurors on January 8 that Schirmer repeatedly struck his wife Betty Jean on the head with a heavy metal object in 2008 and later staged an automobile accident as a cover-up. The plot came apart, said Mancuso in the courtroom, when a member of Schirmer’s congregation committed suicide in the church office upon learning of his wife’s affair with Schirmer.
The pastor is also accused of killing Jewel Schirmer, his first wife, in 1999. However, a separate trial date for the earlier murder has not yet been set in Lebanon County PA. The prosecution said on January 8 that Schirmer killed his wives out of dissatisfaction with his sexual relations with them. However, the defense counsel says that Schirmer’s adultery is not evidence of murder. Schirmer has pleaded innocent to the charges in both cases. "You can't take bad behavior, bad science and church gossip and turn them into a murder, let alone two," said defense attorney Brandon Reish.
The trial is now focusing on the circumstances of the automobile accident allegedly staged by Pastor Schirmer. Schirmer told investigators that on July 15, 2008 he was driving his wife to hospital at 1:50 a.m. for chronic pain in her jaw. He alleged that a deer crossed the path of their car and caused him to lose control. While Pastor Schirmer was unhurt, Betty Jean suffered multiple skull fractures and died at the hospital. She was not wearing a seat belt and there was minimal damage to the car.
It was after the suicide at Schirmer’s office at Reeders United Methodist Church that police reopened the case of the crash.
Prosecutor Mancuso said that accident investigators and medical experts concur that the Methodist minister was driving no more than 22 miles per hour when he struck a guard rail, rather the the 55 miles per hour he had reported. They concluded that Betty Jean’s injuries would not have been caused by the allegedly doctored crash. Said Mancuso, the crash was “The crash "was not only survivable, she should have walked away." Police also found Betty Jean’s blood at Schirmer’s garage, as well as evidence of a clean up.