Former pastor's homicide trial continues in NE Pa.

AP News
Posted: Jan 15, 2013 5:46 PM

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Arthur Schirmer bowed his head, put his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut Tuesday as a forensic pathologist described how he says the former pastor bludgeoned and killed both of his wives.

Dr. Wayne Ross, who performed an autopsy on Jewel Schirmer in 1999 and then investigated the death of Betty Schirmer nine years later, said the evidence clearly shows that both women were savagely beaten with a crowbar or some other heavy cylindrical object. He said Schirmer staged both crime scenes to make it appear as if they'd died in accidents.

Schirmer, 64, a longtime Methodist pastor, asserts that Jewel Schirmer — his wife of more than 30 years — fell down the basement stairs while vacuuming, and that Betty Schirmer was fatally injured in a 2008 car crash in the Poconos.

Neither explanation holds water, Ross said, telling jurors that each woman suffered strikingly similar head and brain injuries consistent with a beating.

The ex-clergyman seemingly tried to shut out Ross's detailed testimony about his wives' injuries, and largely avoided looking at the photos of both women that Ross used to illustrate his points. He occasionally shook his head.

Prosecutors asked Ross to testify about Jewel Schirmer to illustrate the parallels in how they contend both of Schirmer's wives were killed. Schirmer is charged separately in Jewel Schirmer's death and awaits trial.

Schirmer has pleaded innocent, and his attorney has said prosecutors are relying on "bad science" and church gossip about Schirmer's extramarital affairs to try to win a conviction.

Ross addressed the long delay in bringing charges against Schirmer in Jewel's death nearly 14 years ago.

He said early indications that she might have suffered a heart attack — then fell down the stairs — proved to be wrong, and he pressed police and prosecutors in Lebanon County to open a homicide investigation. But he said his pleas were ignored.

"My anxiety level and angst level is going higher and higher," he said of his feelings at the time. "I'm becoming more and more concerned. I'm trying to motivate them to pursue the case as a homicide."

Ultimately, he classified the manner of Jewel's death as "undetermined."

The failure to pursue an investigation never sat well with Jewel Schirmer's brother, Jonathan Behney.

Testifying after Ross, Behney said he took one look at his sister's battered face, arms and hands and concluded she had been in a fight.

"Somebody gave her a beating," he said he told their father.

Behney said he later found evidence that someone had scrubbed the basement floor and wall of the Schirmer home and, when he confronted Schirmer about it, the pastor told him that paramedics who'd attended to Jewel had cleaned up the blood.

"We don't stay behind to clean up blood," testified Behney, who worked for a time in emergency medical services. "It was a lie."

But a police probe into Jewel Schirmer's death was short-lived. The case remained closed until 2008, when authorities in Monroe County began investigating Betty Schirmer's death as a homicide. Lebanon County authorities followed suit, and charged Schirmer in Jewel's death last fall.

Another prosecution witness, Anne Marie Thorsen-Moe, hinted at a possible motive when she testified Monday that Schirmer told her that Betty had discovered he was having an affair with his secretary, and gave him an ultimatum: End the relationship or they would get divorced, the Pocono Record reported.

"He said he didn't want a divorce because he didn't want to lose half of everything," Thorsen-Moe said.

On Tuesday, prosecutor Michael Mancuso presented additional evidence that Schirmer cheated on his wives.

Retired educator Dawn Baer testified that she had a long-term affair with Schirmer, and had sex with him in a hotel room in August 2008, just a few weeks after his wife died.

"I'm sorry to say, I'm ashamed, that we did have intimate relations," Baer said.

There was no cross-examination.