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Pennsylvania minister guilty in wife’s murder

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — A former pastor awaiting trial in the 1999 death of his first wife was convicted Tuesday of fatally bludgeoning his second wife nine years later.

Arthur ‘‘A.B.’’ Schirmer, 64, was called the ‘‘sinister minister’’ by a prosecutor who said he clubbed Betty Schirmer on the head with a crowbar, then loaded her into their car and staged a low-speed accident in an effort to conceal the crime.

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The former clergyman was motionless as the jury returned its verdict 90 minutes after getting the case, and he said nothing while being led from the courtroom.

His conviction brought cries and tears of joy from the family of Betty Schirmer, who prosecutors say suffered mortal brain injuries when he attacked her on July 15, 2008.

‘‘Today, she can finally rest in peace,’’ said her son, Nate Novack, who thanked prosecutors for ‘‘bringing my mom’s killer to justice.’’

Schirmer was convicted of first-degree murder and evidence tampering, bringing an automatic life sentence without parole. He maintained his innocence, and his attorney pledged to appeal.

Defense attorney Brandon Reish had insisted in his closing argument that although his client cheated on Betty Schirmer, 56, he had no motive to kill her.

‘‘Accidents happen,’’ Reish told jurors. ‘‘Sometimes there are no explanations. Car accidents, falling down stairs, falling off ladders. People die in accidents every day.’’

Schirmer is charged separately in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, and awaits trial in Lebanon County.

Schirmer, a longtime United Methodist pastor, asserts that Jewel Schirmer, his wife of more than 30 years, fell down the basement stairs while vacuuming.

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