A former Methodist pastor has been convicted of murdering his second wife in 2008 and now faces a second trial for the murder of his first wife. Arthur Schirmer was convicted of first-degree murder and evidence tampering; he maintained his innocence and plans to appeal.
In 2008, emergency services responded to the scene of a car crash. Schirmer told police he had been driving his wife, Betty, to the hospital when he saw a deer and swerved to avoid hitting it. Betty later died due to brain injuries, and police began to investigate the circumstances of her death after a man committed suicide in Schirmer's office, ABC News reported.
It was later discovered that the man's wife had been having an affair with Schirmer, a fact that caused police to take a second look at the crime scene. They found blood in Schirmer's garage and determined that the accident had been a cover-up.
"Accidents happen," defense attorney Brandon Reish told the jury, according to the Associated Press. "Sometimes there are no explanations: car accidents, falling down stairs, falling off ladders. People die in accidents every day."
Yet prosecutors asserted that Schirmer had beaten Betty over the head with a crowbar and faked the accident to conceal his crime. A jury agreed and, after 90 minutes of deliberation, returned a guilty verdict.
"Today she can finally rest in peace," Betty's son Nate Novack told reporters.
Now Schirmer will await trial for the murder of his first wife, Jewel, who died in 1999 after allegedly falling down stairs in the home. Schirmer again maintains his innocence and has told authorities that Jewel fell down the stairs and had a vacuum cleaner cord wrapped around her ankle.
"That's staging 101," District Attorney Michael Mancuso told the AP.
Prosecutors told the jury that Jewel Schirmer's injuries included "forceful, hard blows to the back of the head. It was murder, and it was going to happen again," the AP noted.
Given the circumstances, and similar manners of death, prosecutors have decided to hold a separate trial for the death of Jewel. It's not known when that trial will begin, but Schirmer faces another charge of murder in the first degree.