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Arthur Schirmer, retired Pa. pastor charged with killing two wives, goes on trial

Arthur Schirmer, right, is led into district court in Tannersville, Pa., Sept. 13, 2010 . AP Photo, file/Pocono Record, David Kidwell

(CBS/AP) STROUDSBURG, Pa. - Opening statements are expected Tuesday in the case against Arthur "A.B." Schirmer, a retired Pennsylvania pastor charged with killing both of his wives, and who is currently on trial for the murder of his second wife. 

Schirmer, 64, is charged with killing Betty Jean Schirmer in 2008 and staging a car accident to cover it up. Jury selection began Monday at the Monroe County Courthouse in Stroudsburg.

Schirmer also stands accused of killing his first wife, Jewel, in 1999. A trial date hasn't been set for charges related to that crime.

A grand jury has said Schirmer likely used blunt objects to kill both women.

The retired clergyman, who led churches in Lebanon and Reeders, Pa., denies hurting either of them, and his adult children have said they support him.

The first trial will likely center on Schirmer's claim that his 56-year-old wife, Betty, died as the result of a Pocono Mountains car crash.

Schirmer told investigators he was driving her to the hospital around 2 a.m. on July 15, 2008, so she could be treated for jaw pain. He said a deer crossed their path, causing him to lose control of the car.

The accident was minor, but his wife suffered multiple skull and facial fractures and died at the hospital. Her death was initially ruled an accident.

Police took a second look after an October 2008 suicide at Reeders United Methodist Church, where Schirmer had served as pastor since 2001. Authorities determined that Schirmer had been having an affair with his secretary - the wife of the man who took his own life.

Schirmer resigned from the church about two weeks later. He was charged in Betty Schirmer's death in 2010.

That's when police and prosecutors in Lebanon County decided to take another look at the death of Schirmer's first wife after 31 years of marriage.

Schirmer has long claimed he was out for a run on April 23, 1999, when he returned home to find Jewel Schirmer's body in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps. Although she had suffered a fractured skull as well as injuries to the 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.

But a grand jury recently concluded Jewel's injuries weren't consistent with a fall down the stairs, and Lebanon County prosecutors charged Schirmer in that case in September.

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