A forensic pathologist testified today in Monroe County Court that the deaths of Arthur Schirmer’s wives were not homicides.
Schirmer, 64, is on trial in Monroe County Court for the July 15, 2008, death of his second wife Betty Jean Schirmer. Today is the eighth day of testimony. He is also awaiting trial in Lebanon County in the death of his first wife, Jewel.
Schirmer is accused of staging a car crash on Route 715 in Pocono Township to cover up a fatal head injury he inflicted on Betty Jean. Police say he hit her in their garage and then put her in the car.
An associate pastor at Reeders United Methodist Church at the time, Schirmer said he was driving Betty Jean to the hospital for jaw pain when he swerved to avoid a deer and crashed into a guard rail, causing her to hit her head on the windshield.
Jonathan Briskin, a forensic pathologist who works in Montgomery County, testified for the defense about both of Schirmer’s wives.
After reviewing Betty Jean’s head injuries, he said, “My conclusion is that they are typical injuries we see in motor vehicle accidents.”
She also had an injury to her lung. “The trauma seen is the type we would see in a car accident,” Briskin said.
In 1999, Schirmer said he returned to his house after a morning jog to find his first wife, Jewel, lying at the bottom of the steps in their home in Lebanon County.
According to police reports, Jewel was on her back with both feet on the steps, a vacuum cord around her left leg, her shoes beside her, her right arm outstretched and her head in a pool of blood. Near her outstretched right arm was the vacuum cleaner.
Schirmer, who at the time was associate pastor at nearby Bethany United Methodist Church, called 911. Jewel died at the hospital.
The case was reopened after Schirmer was charged with Betty Jean’s death.
Briskin said he disagreed with earlier testimony that Jewel’s death was a murder.
“It’s my opinion that these injuries were consistent with a fall down the stairs,” Briskin said.
He said some of her injuries could have happened at the hospital when doctors performed a craniotomy to relieve the pressure from the fall.
Earlier Thursday, a blood spatter expert testified for the defense that the stains in Arthur Schirmer’s car on the night Betty Jean was fatally injured are consistent with his story.
Anita Zannin, an independent blood spatter analyst from Syracuse, N.Y., testifying for the defense, also said police didn’t conduct the test properly on the stains in the garage.
Zannin examined the photos of the PT Cruiser Schirmer was driving. Blood was shown on the dash and rearview mirror.
Zannin said today, “The stains are consistent with Mrs. Schirmer’s bloody head coming into contact with that area.”
She also said the blood in the rest of the car could have spread when paramedics removed Betty from the car.
Zannin maintains that police did not conduct a luminal test on blood stains in the garage properly.
She said it possibly distorted the amount of blood found in the garage.
Police said they found dried blood drops near where the car’s front passenger door would have been, believing this blood came from the same source as the blood found in the front passenger seat area.
Schirmer said the couple was moving a pile of wood out of the garage, about a month prior to Betty Jean’s death, after being asked by an exterminator to do so.
He said the wood fell and cut both him and Betty Jean, resulting in the blood on the garage floor.
During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Mike Mancuso asked Zannin if she thought Betty Jean could have been bleeding before the crash.
“If she was bleeding before the accident I would expect much more (blood) in this area,” she said.
The defense also called a letter carrier, Charlie Klimkoswki, who said he heard Jewel vacuuming on the morning of her death. A live video testimony was provided by Myrl Mladenoff, who said she ran into Schirmer when he was out jogging that morning.