|Blood Expert Supports Pa. Pastor's Claim|
|By ALEX MARQUARDT||Jan 18, 2013, 2:00 AM|
A blood splatter analyst gave testimony to back up a former Pennsylvania pastor's claim that his second wife died from a tragic car accident, and was not bludgeoned to death by him as prosecutors have claimed.
In the eighth day of graphic testimony Thursday, a blood splatter analyst criticized the police investigation and testified that Betty Schirmer, 56, died in a 2008 car accident when her husband, Arthur Schirmer, swerved to avoid a deer in the Poconos.
Schirmer, 64, also faces a second trial at a later date for the death of his first wife. He has said he is innocent of all charges.
The blood splatter analyst, Anita Zannin, said Thursday that the blood in the car was consistent with the crash. Schirmer told police at the time that he had been driving 55 mph and swerved to miss a deer, causing him to drive off the road.
When investigators re-examined the crash scene in 2010, they found that the car was going less than 25 mph at the time of the crash – too slow to cause Betty Schirmer's injuries. They also found Schirmer's blood in her husband's garage, a clue that she may have been injured before she got into the car.
"The blood evidence is absolutely critical in this case," said ABC News analyst Dan Abrams. "Prosecutors believe she wasn't injured in the car, that she was actually injured before she got into the car – if the defense can take that off the table in some way shape or form. That would be very helpful to the defense's case."
Prosecutors had spent all week painting a damning picture of Arthur Schirmer, saying he used the crash as a cover-up because he had beaten Betty Schirmer so badly. Schirmer died a day after the crash and her body was cremated at the request of Arthur Schirmer.
Although Schirmer is not currently on trial in his first wife's death, evidence from the Jewel Schirmer investigation has been introduced by the prosecution in this trial, saying that both women were beaten by Schirmer, who then covered up the murders to look like an accident.
Schirmer's first wife died in April 1999 from a traumatic brain injury after she purportedly fell down a flight of stairs in their Lebanon, Pa., home.
Dr. Wayne Ross, who performed an autopsy on Jewel Schirmer in 1999 and then investigated the death of Betty Schirmer nine years later, said Tuesday the evidence clearly shows that both women were savagely beaten with a crowbar or some other heavy cylindrical object.
"You look at Jewel Schrimer, she's got two strikes on the right side of her head. It looks like a long cylindrical object. Compare that to Betty Schrimer, she's got two strikes in the right side of her head. The lacerations are similar. The patterns are similar," Ross said in his testimony.
The jury also heard compelling testimony Wednesday from two of Arthur Schrimer's children from his first marriage. Both testified that their father was devastated following the death of each wife.
"It's not just that he has his children testifying on his behalf, he has the children of someone the authorities believe he also killed testifying on his behalf. That can be powerful evidence," Abrams said.
The defense will continue to call witnesses today and plan to rest their case after their testimony. There is still no word yet if Schrimer will take the stand.
"If the defense thinks that the prosecution has put on a pretty compelling and tough case, they may feel they have to put him on the stand, but if they think that they've still got a really solid shot of an acquittal or a hung jury without him testifying, they'll probably try to keep him off the stand," Abrams said.
It wasn't until a grisly suicide in 2010 inside Schirmer's office that authorities decided to revisit the case of Betty Schirmer's death and arrest the pastor.
The man who broke in and shot himself in Arthur Schirmer's office at the Reeders United Methodist Church, Joseph Mustante, was the husband of the pastor's secretary, Cynthia Mustante, Poconos Township Police Detective James Wagner said.
Mustante's suicide was prompted by the discovery that his wife and the pastor had apparently been having an affair, Wagner said.
On Dec. 11, 2012 -- more than 13 years after Jewel Schirmer died, a Lebanon County judge ruled Arthur Schirmer would be tried for her murder.
ABC News' Emily Friedman and Alyssa Newcomb contributed to this report