Published January 18, 2013
STROUDSBURG, Pa. – A retired Pennsylvania pastor accused of killing his second wife testified in his own defense Friday, describing her death as the result of a car accident that left him feeling alone, lost and scared.
Arthur Schirmer, 64, appeared calm and showed little emotion in Monroe County Court as he talked about the 2008 crash that he said happened after he swerved to avoid a deer.
Prosecutors contend Schirmer staged the accident after fatally bludgeoning his wife, Betty, and have charged him with homicide. He has pleaded not guilty.
Schirmer testified that he felt "alone, lost, scared, scared, scared" while at the hospital with his gravely injured spouse. Removing Betty Schirmer from life support after the crash was an extremely difficult decision, he said.
"It was agonizing, really, because you want her to live," Schirmer said. "We wanted her to live. It was just a very agonizing decision."
Schirmer, an associate pastor at Reeders United Methodist Church when Betty died, is also awaiting trial in Lebanon County on charges he bludgeoned his first wife, Jewel, in 1999. He has also pleaded not guilty in that case.
On Friday, he testified that he found Jewel dead at the bottom of the basement staircase when he came home from a jog. She had been vacuuming dog hair from the steps, he said.
Schirmer spent about an hour on the stand Friday morning. He had not yet been cross-examined by prosecutors.
A forensic pathologist and blood evidence expert who testified on Thursday for the defense said Betty Schirmer's injuries were consistent with Schirmer's car crash account.
But a different forensic pathologist told jurors last week that each wife suffered strikingly similar head and brain injuries consistent with a beating.