The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

December 11, 2012

Retired pastor to stand trial in Lebanon County for deaths of two wives

LEBANON — A retired Pennsylvania pastor accused of killing both of his wives was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in the first wife's 1999 death.

District Judge Kim Wolfe found enough evidence at a preliminary hearing to send the charges against Arthur "A.B." Schirmer to trial.

The former preacher was charged in September with killing Jewel Schirmer at their home in Lebanon County. Police and prosecutors re-opened the case after Schirmer came under suspicion in the 2008 death of his second wife, Betty Jean, in the Poconos.

Prosecutors in that case say Schirmer killed Betty Jean Schirmer, then staged a car accident to cover it up. He faces a January trial in Betty Jean's death, with a second trial to come later for the death of his first wife.

Schirmer maintains his innocence in both cases and his children have said they support him.

Schirmer has long claimed he was out for a run on April 23, 1999, when he returned home to find Jewel Schirmer's body in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps. She had suffered a fractured skull as well as injuries to her face, body, arms and legs, but the coroner made no determination as to whether her death was an accident or a homicide, and the case was closed.

A Lebanon County detective, relaying the conclusions of a pathologist who took another look at the evidence, testified Tuesday that both women suffered several skull fractures and multiple brain injuries, and were involved in accidents that appeared to be staged.

Jewel Schirmer's brother, John Behney, testified that his sister had complained that her husband was cheating on her.

Several of Schirmer's supporters attended the hearing, including his three adult children. They declined comment.

"Mr. Schirmer is innocent and has the support of his family and friends," his attorney, Brandon Reish, said after the hearing.

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