Pastor accused of murdering 2nd wife faces court

/ Source: staff and news service reports

A retired Pennsylvania pastor accused of killing his wife and staging a car accident to cover it up is scheduled to be in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors will ask a judge to order 62-year-old Arthur Burton "A.B." Schirmer to stand trial. Schirmer was charged earlier this month with homicide and evidence-tampering in the death of his 56-year-old wife, Betty.

Betty Schirmer's death was initially ruled an accident after the July 2008 crash, but police reopened the investigation after the November 2008 suicide of a man whose wife was having an affair with A.B. Schirmer.

The suicide occurred in Schirmer's office at the Reeders United Methodist Church in the Poconos, northeastern Pennsylvania, local media reported.

A forensic pathologist and the Lehigh County Coroner found that Betty Schirmer's injuries were not consistent with the conditions of the crash, as it was determined to have been at a low-speed and the impact would not have been enough to kill her, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Additionally, investigators found blood in the Schirmers' garage, the newspaper said.

Local newspaper The Pocono Record reported that Schirmer initially explained the blood to police by saying stacked wood in the garage had fallen and cut both him and his wife, according to recently released grand jury findings.

But police discovered newspapers beneath the woodpile that post-dated Betty Schirmer's death, The Pocono Record reported.

First wife's death under scrutiny
Police are also re-examining the 1999 death of Schirmer's first wife, Jewel, who was reported to have died in a fall down a flight of stairs.

According to her autopsy, however, she was found to have suffered 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face, The Record reported.

Police declined to comment on why Schirmer was not charged after that death, The Record said.

"We're not going to release any statements because it's an ongoing investigation we've reopened as a result of information concerning the Betty Jean Schirmer case," Chief Detective John Leahy of the Lebanon County District Attorney's office detective bureau said, according to The Pocono Record.

Schirmer denies harming either of his wives.