The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 18, 2013

MIDDAY BRIEFING: Retired pastor testifies about wives' deaths

A.P. briefs from around the state

Associated Press


A retired Pennsylvania pastor accused of killing his second wife is testifying in his own defense.

Arthur Schirmer took the stand on Friday at his trial in the Pocono Mountain community of Stroudsburg.

Schirmer is charged with homicide in the 2008 death of Betty Schirmer. He is charged separately in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

In court, he appeared calm and showed little emotion as he described the deaths of both wives.

He says he found Jewel dead at the bottom of the basement staircase when he came home from a jog. He says she had been vacuuming dog hair from the steps.

Schirmer described his decision to remove Betty from life-support after a car accident as "agonizing."


Council votes to fire Irwin police chief

IRWIN — A Pittsburgh-area borough has voted unanimously to fire its police chief.

Irwin council members fired chief Joseph Pocsatko at a special meeting Thursday night, effective immediately. Pocsatko says that was wrong.

Officials declined to comment on the reasons for the firing.

The 37-year-old Pocsatko says he wasn't even told of the meeting and plans to appeal the firing.

Pocsatko had been chief for more than three years and was also a borough patrolman for 13 years. He took medical leave in October after injuring his hand during a scuffle with a suspect and was placed on administrative leave last month.

Mayor Dan Rose said the council had hired an investigator to look into "a number of incidents." Irwin is about 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.


Teens face charges over weapons at schools

TOWAMENCIN — Three suburban Philadelphia teenagers face charges after police say they brought weapons onto school property in separate incidents.

Police in Towamencin say two Pennfield Middle School students, ages 14 and 15, brought a pellet gun and a BB gun to the middle school and to North Montco Technical Career Center, which they also attend.

The Intelligencer reports police were called to the technical center Thursday. The weapons have been confiscated and juvenile charges are being filed.

Also Thursday, Towamencin police say they were called to North Penn High School after multiple knives were discovered in a truck parked at the school.


Late Philly student claims abduction, then recants

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia police say a 9-year-old girl who arrived late at her elementary school told administrators she had been abducted, but recanted the story when authorities arrived to investigate.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports the girl made the claim when she got to Lea Elementary School in west Philadelphia around 9 a.m. Thursday.

Capt. John Darby, who heads the police department's special victims unit, says authorities responded and later determined the story to be unfounded after interviewing the girl and her parents. He wouldn't elaborate on why the girl made up the story.

On Monday, a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from a different Philadelphia elementary school by a woman claiming to be her mother. The girl was later found unhurt and police are searching for suspects in that case.


Obama asked to attend 'Gettysburg Address' event

GETTYSBURG — Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators and the congressman who represents Gettysburg are asking President Barack Obama to attend the November event that will commemorate the 150th year since the "Gettysburg Address."

Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry on Thursday wrote the president, asking him to deliver the keynote address. The letter says Obama's participation "would mean a great deal to Pennsylvania and to the nation."

President Abraham Lincoln's short speech at the 1863 dedication of a cemetery for war dead is considered one of the greatest achievements in American political oratory.

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg gave the keynote address two months ago.

The Battle of Gettysburg, in which Northern forces turned away a Confederate advance, is considered a pivotal moment in the American Civil War.


Jury chaos, but no mistrial at Philly mob trial

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A foreman has resigned. Another juror has been hospitalized. And a third juror in a Philadelphia mob case suddenly recalls knowing a defense witness, and not liking him.

The jury is seemingly in chaos two weeks into deliberations. But federal Judge Eduardo Robreno denied a mistrial Friday and instead ordered a newly-configured panel to start over.

The two-month trial involves 73-year-old reputed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six others.

They're charged with racketeering, gambling and loansharking.

Defense lawyers have called the prosecution's case "mob light" because of the lack of bloodshed.

The original foreman remains on the panel despite asking to be replaced. He says his fellow juror's criticism of the defense witness influenced him.

A prosecutor said Thursday he feared the jury was "wandering in the desert."


Greyhound bus driver cited in Erie crash

ERIE — Police say a Greyhound bus driver has been cited for a crash that injured 12 people on an interstate in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The accident happened around 7 a.m. Thursday on Interstate 90 in McKean Township. Police say the bus was going about 65 miles per hour when it rear-ended a flatbed truck before coming to rest in a ditch.

The driver and 11 others were taken to the hospital for minor injuries.

The Erie Time-News reports the bus driver, 48-year-old Shaker Heights, Ohio, resident Mark Harris has been cited for careless driving. Firefighters say he was pinned in his seat after the crash and it took nearly 90 minutes to free him.

A Greyhound spokeswoman says the bus had left from Cleveland and was headed to New York.