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Former pastor's homicide trial continues in NE Pa.


February 20. 2013 2:14AM
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(AP) Arthur Schirmer bowed his head, put his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut as the former pastor accused of killing both of his wives listened to a forensic pathologist describe how he says Schirmer bludgeoned both women.


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 and that 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 fell down the basement stairs while vacuuming, and that Betty Schirmer was fatally injured in a 2008 car crash.


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 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 similarities 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 quickly 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. It remained that way until Betty Schirmer died in 2008, and authorities in Monroe County began investigating that case as a homicide. Lebanon County authorities followed suit, reopening the Jewel Schirmer case and charging her husband last fall.


Tuesday's testimony marked a return to the forensic evidence upon which much of the prosecution's case is based. On Monday, jurors heard emotional testimony from Betty's son and sister, both of whom broke down on the stand as they described seeing their mother's battered body in the hospital before she died.


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.


Associated Press


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