Convicted PA. pastor faces trial in first wife's death - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Convicted PA. pastor faces trial in first wife's death

Posted: Updated:
ABC News ABC News

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A former Methodist clergyman convicted of bludgeoning his second wife to death in 2008 now faces trial on whether he killed his first wife, too.

Arthur Schirmer was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder and evidence tampering after a jury in the Poconos concluded he clubbed Betty Schirmer on the head with a crowbar, then loaded her into their PT Cruiser and staged a low-speed accident in an effort to conceal the crime.

The former preacher, 64, was motionless as the jury returned its verdict 90 minutes after getting the case, and said nothing while being led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

The conviction of a man whom prosecutor Michael Mancuso had dubbed the "sinister minister" brought cries and tears of joy from the family of Betty Schirmer, 56, who suffered mortal brain injuries after prosecutors say he attacked her on July 15, 2008.

"Today, she can finally rest in peace," said her son, Nate Novack, who thanked prosecutors for "bringing my mom's killer to justice."

Schirmer maintained his innocence, and his attorney pledged to appeal.

Defense attorney Brandon Reish had insisted in his closing argument that while his client cheated on Betty, he had no motive to kill her.

"Accidents happen," Reish told jurors. "Sometimes there are no explanations. Car accidents, falling down stairs, falling off ladders. People die in accidents every day."

Schirmer is charged separately in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, and awaits trial in Lebanon County.

The longtime United Methodist pastor asserts that Jewel - his wife of more than 30 years - fell down the basement stairs while vacuuming. He said he found her with the cord of a Shop-Vac wrapped around her ankle.

"That's staging 101," said Monroe County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso.

Like Betty Schirmer, the prosecutor told jurors in his closing argument, Jewel Schirmer suffered "forceful, hard blows to the back of the head. It was murder, and it was going to happen again."

The defense had fought to keep testimony about Jewel Schirmer's death out of the trial, but the judge allowed it. Reish said that decision would form the basis of his appeal.

"I think the admission of the circumstances surrounding the death of Jewel Schirmer really did prejudice the case," he said. The quick verdict, he added, "says there was something there that was improper that they shouldn't have been considering."

Schirmer took the stand in his own defense last week and testified that he was driving his second wife to the emergency room for treatment of jaw pain when he swerved to avoid a deer and hit a guardrail.

Local police initially treated it as a straightforward car crash. But months later, state police began a more thorough investigation when a man committed suicide in Schirmer's office after learning the pastor was in a relationship with his wife, the church secretary.

Authorities ultimately concluded the fender-bender could not have caused Betty Schirmer's extensive head and brain injuries. Police also found her blood on the garage floor and evidence that someone had tried to clean it up. Schirmer contends she was cut while helping him move a wood pile weeks before the crash.

His conviction brings an automatic life sentence without parole.

The victim's family is "down and out and distraught but they're really thankful," said Betty Schirmer's youngest brother, Bill Shertzer. "We've been waiting for this for so long."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Central Alabama NewsMore>>

  • Alabama farmers honored at the White House

    Alabama farmers honored at the White House

    Monday, July 28 2014 5:52 PM EDT2014-07-28 21:52:40 GMT
    Two Alabama farmers are being honored at the White House. Bill Bridgeforth of Tanner and Lee Haynes of Cullman are among 15 people being recognized as "Champions of Change" in Washington on Tuesday. The the Agriculture Department honors people who are empowering and inspiring members of their local communities.Bridgeforth is a fourth-generation farmer in Limestone County. He's also a county chairman of the National Black Growers Association.Haynes is an egg farmer in Cullman County. After gra...More >>
    Two Alabama farmers are being honored at the White House. Bill Bridgeforth of Tanner and Lee Haynes of Cullman are among 15 people being recognized as "Champions of Change" in Washington on Tuesday. The the Agriculture Department honors people who are empowering and inspiring members of their local communities.Bridgeforth is a fourth-generation farmer in Limestone County. He's also a county chairman of the National Black Growers Association.Haynes is an egg farmer in Cullman County. After gra...More >>
  • FAA proposes to fine Southwest Airlines $12M

    FAA proposes to fine Southwest Airlines $12M

    Monday, July 28 2014 3:19 PM EDT2014-07-28 19:19:17 GMT
    The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it is proposing a $12 million civil fine against Southwest Airlines for failing to comply with safety regulations related to repairs on Boeing 737 jetliners. Beginning in 2006, Southwest made "extreme makeover" alterations to eliminate potential cracking of the aluminum skin on 44 jetliners, the FAA said. An FAA investigation determined that Southwest's contractor, Aviation Technical Services Inc. of Everett, Washington, failed to follow proper ...More >>
    The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it is proposing a $12 million civil fine against Southwest Airlines for failing to comply with safety regulations related to repairs on Boeing 737 jetliners. Beginning in 2006, Southwest made "extreme makeover" alterations to eliminate potential cracking of the aluminum skin on 44 jetliners, the FAA said. An FAA investigation determined that Southwest's contractor, Aviation Technical Services Inc. of Everett, Washington, failed to follow proper ...More >>
  • Nationwide manhunt for Ozark man accused of kidnapping, sexual assault

    Nationwide manhunt for Ozark man accused of kidnapping, sexual assault

    Sunday, July 27 2014 10:00 PM EDT2014-07-28 02:00:39 GMT
    David PittsDavid Pitts
    A 30 year old woman and 8 year old child are receiving medical treatment after they were kidnapped and sexually assaulted. A nationwide manhunt is now underway for the suspect.More >>
    A 30 year old woman and 8 year old child are receiving medical treatment after they were kidnapped and sexually assaulted. A nationwide manhunt is now underway for the suspect.More >>
  • Birmingham Area NewsMore>>

  • Principal address several job openings at Minor High School

    Principal address several job openings at Minor High School

    Monday, July 28 2014 8:14 PM EDT2014-07-29 00:14:34 GMT
    Students in Jefferson County return to school next week. Parents with kids at Minor High School wonder who will teach them and which classes they'll take. One emailed ABC 33/40 asking us to help get answers.The parent told ABC 33/40 through email, there are 20 vacancies on the staff and no counselors on the payroll Minor High. Principal Dr. JuntaAnnn acknowledged she is in a hiring blitz, but there's more to the story."Minor High School is a well-kept secret," said Dr.Annn.Dr.Annn is aware on...More >>
    Students in Jefferson County return to school next week. Parents with kids at Minor High School wonder who will teach them and which classes they'll take. One emailed ABC 33/40 asking us to help get answers.The parent told ABC 33/40 through email, there are 20 vacancies on the staff and no counselors on the payroll Minor High. Principal Dr. JuntaAnnn acknowledged she is in a hiring blitz, but there's more to the story."Minor High School is a well-kept secret," said Dr.Annn.Dr.Annn is aware on...More >>
  • Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:27 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:27:52 GMT
    Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown stood with her attorneys and supporters.More >>
    Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown stood with her attorneys and supporters.
    More >>
  • Rebuilding continues in Bessemer for homes, park hit by tornado

    Rebuilding continues in Bessemer for homes, park hit by tornado

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:06 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:06:51 GMT
    Rebuilding efforts continue in Bessemer three months after a tornado hit central Alabama.Volunteers are now fixing houses that were destroyed to help families return home.More >>
    Rebuilding efforts continue in Bessemer three months after a tornado hit central Alabama.Volunteers are now fixing houses that were destroyed to help families return home.More >>
Most Popular
Stories
Videos
loading...
  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Principal address several job openings at Minor High School

    Principal address several job openings at Minor High School

    Monday, July 28 2014 8:14 PM EDT2014-07-29 00:14:34 GMT
    Students in Jefferson County return to school next week. Parents with kids at Minor High School wonder who will teach them and which classes they'll take. One emailed ABC 33/40 asking us to help get answers.The parent told ABC 33/40 through email, there are 20 vacancies on the staff and no counselors on the payroll Minor High. Principal Dr. JuntaAnnn acknowledged she is in a hiring blitz, but there's more to the story."Minor High School is a well-kept secret," said Dr.Annn.Dr.Annn is aware on...More >>
    Students in Jefferson County return to school next week. Parents with kids at Minor High School wonder who will teach them and which classes they'll take. One emailed ABC 33/40 asking us to help get answers.The parent told ABC 33/40 through email, there are 20 vacancies on the staff and no counselors on the payroll Minor High. Principal Dr. JuntaAnnn acknowledged she is in a hiring blitz, but there's more to the story."Minor High School is a well-kept secret," said Dr.Annn.Dr.Annn is aware on...More >>
  • Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Commissioner Brown asks for end to vote challenge

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:27 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:27:52 GMT
    Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown stood with her attorneys and supporters.More >>
    Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown stood with her attorneys and supporters.
    More >>
  • Abuse suspect dead; 2 marshals, NY policeman hurt

    Abuse suspect dead; 2 marshals, NY policeman hurt

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:25 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:25:43 GMT
    Authorities say a sex-assault suspect got in a shootout with law enforcement in New York City that wounded the suspect, two federal marshals and a police officer.More >>
    A California man who skipped town after being accused of molesting a boy was killed and three law enforcement officers trying to arrest him were wounded in a daytime shootout inside a small smoke shop in one of New...More >>
  • Rebuilding continues in Bessemer for homes, park hit by tornado

    Rebuilding continues in Bessemer for homes, park hit by tornado

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:06 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:06:51 GMT
    Rebuilding efforts continue in Bessemer three months after a tornado hit central Alabama.Volunteers are now fixing houses that were destroyed to help families return home.More >>
    Rebuilding efforts continue in Bessemer three months after a tornado hit central Alabama.Volunteers are now fixing houses that were destroyed to help families return home.More >>
  • Crimson Tide set to host annual Fan Day

    Crimson Tide set to host annual Fan Day

    Monday, July 28 2014 7:06 PM EDT2014-07-28 23:06:14 GMT
    Alabama will hold it's annual Fan Day Sunday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fans are invited to watch the Crimson Tide practice, followed by an autograph session with the team.The practice is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. and expected to last two hours. Alabama reports for preseason practice on Thursday and holds it's first workout on Friday.The Tide open the 2014 season against West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta on Aug. 30.More >>
    Alabama will hold it's annual Fan Day Sunday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fans are invited to watch the Crimson Tide practice, followed by an autograph session with the team.The practice is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. and expected to last two hours. Alabama reports for preseason practice on Thursday and holds it's first workout on Friday.The Tide open the 2014 season against West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta on Aug. 30.More >>
  • Update: Man arrested after woman doused with gasoline and burned

    Update: Man arrested after woman doused with gasoline and burned

    Monday, July 28 2014 5:57 PM EDT2014-07-28 21:57:16 GMT
    The Jefferson County Sheriff's department is looking for 48 year old Michael Kennedy. He's wanted on several charges after allegedly setting his ex-girlfriend on fire. Just after 2:30 this morning deputies respond to a report of a house fire in the 4400 block of Nellie Anderson Street. They arrived to find a 49 year old female victim with extensive burns to her head, arms, upper body and legs. She was transported to the hospital and admitted to a burn unit in serious condition. Investigators...More >>
    The Jefferson County Sheriff's department is looking for 48 year old Michael Kennedy. He's wanted on several charges after allegedly setting his ex-girlfriend on fire. Just after 2:30 this morning deputies respond to a report of a house fire in the 4400 block of Nellie Anderson Street. They arrived to find a 49 year old female victim with extensive burns to her head, arms, upper body and legs. She was transported to the hospital and admitted to a burn unit in serious condition. Investigators...More >>
  • Alabama farmers honored at the White House

    Alabama farmers honored at the White House

    Monday, July 28 2014 5:52 PM EDT2014-07-28 21:52:40 GMT
    Two Alabama farmers are being honored at the White House. Bill Bridgeforth of Tanner and Lee Haynes of Cullman are among 15 people being recognized as "Champions of Change" in Washington on Tuesday. The the Agriculture Department honors people who are empowering and inspiring members of their local communities.Bridgeforth is a fourth-generation farmer in Limestone County. He's also a county chairman of the National Black Growers Association.Haynes is an egg farmer in Cullman County. After gra...More >>
    Two Alabama farmers are being honored at the White House. Bill Bridgeforth of Tanner and Lee Haynes of Cullman are among 15 people being recognized as "Champions of Change" in Washington on Tuesday. The the Agriculture Department honors people who are empowering and inspiring members of their local communities.Bridgeforth is a fourth-generation farmer in Limestone County. He's also a county chairman of the National Black Growers Association.Haynes is an egg farmer in Cullman County. After gra...More >>
  • Deal to improve veterans' health care costs $17B

    Deal to improve veterans' health care costs $17B

    Monday, July 28 2014 5:18 PM EDT2014-07-28 21:18:33 GMT
    After more than six weeks of sometimes testy talks, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise plan to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records...More >>
    A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department...More >>