(AP) A former pastor accused of killing his first wife fatally bludgeoned his second wife and tried to make it appear as if she died in a car crash, a prosecutor said Tuesday, adding the sinister minister left behind too many clues that proved he covered up her murder.
The evidence shows that Arthur Schirmer clubbed his second wife, Betty Schirmer, on the head with a crowbar, then loaded her into their PT Cruiser and staged a low-speed accident, Monroe County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso said.
Mancuso asked jurors to convict the 64-year-old Schirmer of premeditated murder.
But Schirmer's attorney insisted in his closing argument that while his client cheated on Betty Schirmer, he had no motive to kill her.
Accidents happen, attorney Brandon Reish told jurors. Sometimes there are no explanations. Car accidents, falling down stairs, falling off ladders. People die in accidents every day.
The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon. Schirmer is charged with an open count of homicide meaning he could be convicted of anything from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter as well as evidence tampering. He has pleaded not guilty.
The ex-clergyman is charged separately in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, and awaits trial in Lebanon County.
Schirmer, a longtime United Methodist pastor, asserts that Jewel Schirmer, 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.
Mancuso countered Tuesday: That's staging 101.
Like Betty Schirmer, he said, Jewel Schirmer suffered forceful, hard blows to the back of the head. It was murder, and it was going to happen again.
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 guard rail.
Local police initially treated it as a straightforward car crash. State police began a more thorough investigation months later, 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 crash could not have caused Betty Schirmer's extensive head and brain injuries. Police also found her blood on the garage floor, along with 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.
Mancuso, displaying photos of the lightly damaged PT Cruiser, said Tuesday the car was going so slowly that loose change remained neatly stacked by the cup holder after the accident. The air bags did not deploy.
Do not think for a minute that Betty was killed in this crash, Mancuso said.
He said Schirmer was unhappy in his marriage and told mistresses that his wife was no longer interested in sex.
Reish, the defense attorney, said prosecutors presented no hard evidence, no real motive and no confession. He said an extensive police search of Schirmer's computers turned up pornography but no indication he had searched the Internet for information on how to clean up blood or stage an accident.
Affairs, he said, do not make someone a murderer.