Schirmer, 64, is on trial in the 2008 death of his second wife, Betty Jean, 56, in Monroe County and awaiting trial in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel, 50, in Lebanon County. He’s accused of hitting both wives in the head, staging a fall down steps in Jewel’s case and a car crash in Betty Jean’s.
Schirmer said he was driving Betty Jean to the hospital for jaw pain on July 15, 2008, heading north on Route 715 toward Interstate 80 in Pocono Township. He said he swerved to avoid a deer, crashed into the guard rail and that Betty Jean, whose seatbelt was unbuckled at the time, hit her head.
Other motorists who stopped to help have testified there was blood all over the front passenger seat area, where Betty Jean was sitting, and that she was bleeding from her forehead. One ambulance medic testified that Betty Jean’s bleeding had slowed to “a trickle” and had matted her hair by the time the ambulance arrived.
The prosecution believes Schirmer hit her on the head in the couple’s garage, where police later found blood with DNA matching that of her surviving relatives.
Crash scene photos show a crack on the inside of the windshield, by the rearview mirror, where a small amount of blood appears.
“If she was already bleeding profusely prior to the crash, then there should have been significantly more blood on the crack in the windshield than what’s shown in the photo,” testified blood spatter analyst Anita Zannin of Syracuse, N.Y.
The small amount of blood in the windshield crack indicates it’s more likely that’s where Betty Jean first hit her head and started bleeding, Zannin said.
The rest of the blood found in the car, such as in the area beneath the glove compartment, came from that wound, she said.
This is further evidenced by the direction of a blood stain pattern moving from the seat toward the door, meaning Betty Jean starting bleeding in the car, Zannin said.
Asked about Betty Jean’s bloody hat, which was found on the front passenger seat floor, Zannin said only parts of the hat were bloody.
The entire hat would have been saturated with blood if Betty Jean been injured prior to being in the car, Zannin said.
Questioned about what appeared to be bloody finger patterns found on the rearview mirror, Zannin said this might have come from Schirmer touching it. Earlier witnesses testified he had some of Betty Jean’s blood on him.
The prosecution also believes the blood had been in the car long enough for some of it to dry or be absorbed into the seat fabric by the time photos were taken, indicating that it was there prior to the crash.
Zannin agreed with a defense scenario that the blood could have been rubbed into the fabric by ambulance personnel sliding the backboard onto the seat, under Betty Jean’s buttocks, in order to remove her from the car.
Ambulance personnel previously testified to consciously doing their best to avoid making any physical contact with the blood on the car seat and any other surfaces.
As for the blood found on the garage floor, Zannin questioned the manner in which police used computer-generated layover photos to document the use of luminol in identifying the stains as blood. Luminol is a chemical that glows blue in the dark when sprayed onto blood.
Zannin said the quality of the layover photos was so poor that it distorted the appearance of the luminol and made it seem like there was more blood than there actually was.
She said she performed her own blood identification test with luminol in a separate location, on a floor similar to the garage floor in the Schirmers’ former home. She presented photos in court, which she said were of better quality and more accurately depict how luminol looks when properly applied to blood stains.
Crash reconstruction consultant Michael Berkovitz called police reconstruction of this particular crash incomplete.
Berkovitz said police ignored tire tracks appearing to go off the road near the crash scene. When told these tracks belonged not to Schirmer’s car but to fire trucks turning around to return to their station after the scene was cleared, Berkovitz said police still should have documented those tracks to see if they related to the crash in any way.
A third defense witness, Montgomery County forensic pathologist Jonathan Briskin, said Betty Jean’s injuries were more consistent with a car crash.
Briskin said Betty Jean also had injuries to her feet and ankle from bracing for impact. The prosecution pointed out she had no similar injuries on her wrists, which would have come from instinctively holding her hands out to brace for impact.
“There was also a traumatic injury to her right lung, which is the kind of injury you typically see in a crash,” Briskin said. “There was no evidence of any struggle or unexplained injuries.”
Schirmer said he hit the guard rail between 45 and 55 mph. Police said it’s more likely he hit at about 20 mph, given the amount of damage (to the still-operable vehicle), which they believe was too slow to give Betty Jean such a severe head injury.
When cross-examined about this discrepancy, Briskin said he’s a forensic pathologist focusing on injuries to the human body, not a crash reconstructionist.
In Jewel’s case, Briskin said her head injury was inconsistent with being hit in the head. He also said her heart’s ventricular walls were thicker than normal.
“This thickness in the ventricular walls contributes to heart attacks and sudden death or can also cause dizziness and fainting spells,” he said. “Could this have caused a fall down the steps if in fact there was a fall? It’s possible.”
The prosecution pointed out that doctors found nothing wrong with Jewel’s heart.