Blood evidence key in ex-pastor's slaying trial
STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) - When Arthur Schirmer moved out of the parsonage after his abrupt resignation as pastor of Reeders United Methodist Church, he emptied the ranch home of nearly all its contents.
It's what he left behind that prosecutors hope will convict him of murder.
Jurors at Schirmer's homicide trial in the Poconos on Wednesday viewed crime-scene photos and video depicting blood stains on the concrete floor of the one-car garage where, prosecutors allege, the 64-year-old former clergyman clubbed his second wife on the head with a metal object in 2008.
Schirmer is charged separately in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel.
Troopers walked jurors through the blood evidence Wednesday, displaying photos that showed a vivid blue glow on areas of the garage floor where they had applied luminol, a chemical agent used to reveal blood stains invisible to the naked eye. Authorities say that Schirmer tried to clean up the mess after bludgeoning Betty Schirmer.
The defense maintains she died in a car crash. Prosecutors allege he staged it to conceal his crime.
Schirmer has told police he was driving his wife to the hospital in the early-morning hours of July 15, 2008, so she could be treated for jaw pain, when a deer crossed their path, he lost control of the car and hit a guard rail. Betty Schirmer suffered multiple skull and facial fractures and died at the hospital.
The first motorists on the scene after the crash said Schirmer seemed oddly calm even though his spouse was unconscious and bleeding profusely from a head wound.
Stan Dickerson testified there was a lot of blood in the car, and Betty Schirmer was struggling to breathe. Yet her husband displayed no emotion, Dickerson said. "I thought at first he was in shock."
Dickerson's girlfriend at the time, April Miranda, also testified that Schirmer was calm and quiet. "I felt like he didn't care," she said.
Retired Trooper Phil Barletto, a forensics expert who reviewed photos of the Schirmers' blood-soaked PT Cruiser, said there's no way the lightly damaged car could have been traveling at 45 mph when it hit the guard rail, as Schirmer allegedly told a paramedic.
Barletto also doubted a low-speed crash would have caused Betty Schirmer to bleed so heavily.
The heavy blood stains on the passenger seat "didn't relate to this crash," he said. "This is obvious as could be."
Local police initially treated the case as a straightforward car crash, but state police became involved several months later when a member of Schirmer's congregation committed suicide in the church office. Authorities said the man had learned Schirmer was in a relationship with the congregant's wife, the church secretary.
Schirmer quickly resigned as pastor in the wake of the suicide and moved out of the parsonage. Troopers investigating his wife's death searched the vacant property and spotted several small blood drops in the garage. The luminol revealed larger splotches of blood.
Defense attorney Brandon Reish suggested in court Wednesday that the camera settings and angle used by the trooper taking the photos had distorted the luminol images, making the blood stains appear larger than they actually were.
The defense explains the presence of blood by maintaining that Betty Schirmer was previously injured while moving a wood pile out of the garage.
Troopers said the garage floor was the only area of the house where they found Betty Schirmer's blood.