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Pa. pastor gets life sentence in wife's murder

STROUDSBURG, Pa. -- A former pastor was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole in the fatal bludgeoning of his second wife in 2008.

Arthur "A.B." Schirmer, 64, was sentenced in Monroe County Court nearly two months after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the death of Betty Schirmer. The conviction brought an automatic life sentence.

"My mom is finally able to rest in peace," Betty Schirmer's son, Nate Novack, said. "We do have some closure and it's a great day overall, even though the life conviction isn't going to bring my mom back."

Schirmer is also charged with killing his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, in 1999. He awaits trial in that case.

Prosecutors said he clubbed Betty Schirmer on the head with a crowbar, put her in their car and staged a low-speed accident to try to conceal the crime. The former Methodist clergyman testified that he was driving her to the emergency room for treatment of jaw pain when he swerved to avoid a deer and hit a guardrail.

State police began investigating when a man committed suicide in Schirmer's office after learning the pastor was in a relationship with his wife, the church secretary. Authorities ultimately concluded the fender-bender could not have caused Betty Schirmer's extensive head and brain injuries. Police also found her blood on the garage floor, along with evidence that someone had tried to clean it up.

Schirmer's girlfriend and his two daughters with Jewel Schirmer said outside court that they continue to believe in his innocence. "I just didn't hear evidence that led me to believe that he committed a crime," said a daughter, Julie Campbell.

The investigation into Betty Schirmer's death led police and prosecutors to take another look at Jewel Schirmer's death. Arthur Schirmer said he had gone out for a run and returned home to find her body in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps. He was charged in September with killing her. He maintains innocence in both cases. -- AP

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