STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A former Pennsylvania pastor was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole in the fatal bludgeoning of his second wife in 2008.
Arthur "A.B." Schirmer, 64, was sentenced in Monroe County Court nearly two months after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the death of Betty Schirmer. The conviction brought an automatic life sentence.
"My mom is finally able to rest in peace," Betty Schirmer's son, Nate Novack, said after the sentencing. "We do have some closure and it's a great day overall, even though the life conviction isn't going to bring my mom back."
Schirmer is charged separately with killing his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, in 1999. He awaits trial in that case.
Prosecutors said he clubbed Betty Schirmer on the head with a crowbar, then loaded her into their car and staged a low-speed accident in an effort to conceal the crime. The former Methodist clergyman took the stand in his own defense and testified that he was driving her to the emergency room for treatment of jaw pain when he swerved to avoid a deer and hit a guard rail.
A jury deliberated about 90 minutes before returning its verdict.
Local police initially believed Betty Schirmer's July 2008 death was the result of a 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 fender-bender 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's girlfriend and his two daughters with Jewel Schirmer said outside court Monday that they continued to believe in his innocence.
"I just didn't hear evidence that led me to believe that he committed a crime," said Julie Campbell, one of the daughters.
The investigation into Betty Schirmer's death led police and prosecutors to take another look at Jewel Schirmer's case. Arthur 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.
He was charged last September with killing her. He has maintained his innocence in both cases.