LEBANON, Pennsylvania — A former Pennsylvania pastor serving a life sentence in the fatal bludgeoning of his second wife entered a surprise no-contest plea Monday to charges that he killed his first wife in 1999.
Arthur "A.B." Schirmer pleaded no contest to third-degree murder during a pretrial hearing in Lebanon County Court.
Schirmer, 66, a former Methodist clergyman, had long claimed he was out for a run on April 23, 1999, when he returned home to find the body of 50-year-old Jewel Schirmer, his wife of 31 years, in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps. Although she had suffered a fractured skull as well as injuries to her face, body, arms and legs, the coroner made no determination as to whether her death was an accident or a homicide, and the case was closed.
Authorities reopened the investigation after Schirmer was charged in Monroe County with using a crowbar to kill his second wife, Betty, in 2008, and staging a car accident in an effort to conceal the crime. Schirmer was convicted of first-degree murder in that case and is serving life without parole.
He faces a maximum of 40 years in Jewel Schirmer's death.
Schirmer answered the judge's questions during a 10-minute hearing Monday but otherwise said little. His two daughters, Amy Wolfgang and Julie Campbell, who had proclaimed their father innocent of their mother's death, appeared shaken by the plea, saying they had only just learned of it, the Lebanon Daily News reported. Schirmer's fiancee, Cynthia Moyer, 49, shook her head no several times during the hearing, the newspaper said.
John Behney, Jewel Schirmer's brother, said he had mixed feelings about the plea.
"I was looking forward to getting up on the witness stand and telling my side of the story," he said. "But I am relieved that we don't have to go through another trial. It's as good as a guilty plea. . All I was after was for the truth to come out about my sister and for her to get justice. Which, in my opinion, is what happened."
Betty Schirmer's mother, Jean Shertzer, 86, who also attended the hearing, shook her cane as she left the courtroom and said, "I'd like to shove this down his throat."