DA: Pa. bomb defendant overstated home robbery

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2010 7:52 PM
DA: Pa. bomb defendant overstated home robbery

A woman who told a courtroom Wednesday that she was a victim of the schemes of others is trying to cover up her role in a heist in which a man was killed by a bomb locked to his neck, a prosecutor said at her trial.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, 61, of Erie, is on trial on charges of armed bank robbery and other crimes. She's accused of helping to plan an Aug. 28, 2003, bank robbery that ended with the death of pizza deliveryman Brian Wells, when a collar bomb he was forced to wear during the heist blew up shortly after he was arrested.

Her defense is complicated, and she snapped twice Wednesday at a prosecutor who questioned her on testimony about a bizarre series of events.

The situation began, she said, when a knife-wielding man woke her one night at about 4 a.m. about three months before the bank robbery and took $133,000.

She said she is convinced the robber knew where to look for the money thanks to information provided by Kenneth Barnes, a co-defendant and key witness against her in the bank case. The linchpin of her defense is that she was so angry with Barnes that there was no way she would have worked with him on the collar bomb plot.

After she was robbed, she said, she enlisted her live-in boyfriend, James Roden, 45, in trying to help her catch the robbers.

But, she testified, Roden was abusive and wasn't helping her solve the home invasion, so she shot him to death him on Aug. 10, 2003. She has pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder in his death and is serving seven to 20 years in prison for it.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini said the home robbery is a ruse to explain away Roden's murder, and to distance herself from Barnes and the collar bomb plot.

Diehl-Armstrong exploded in anger when Piccinini showed her the police report from the robbery of her home, in which she reported only $2,300 stolen, not the $133,000 she claimed was taken when she was first questioned Wednesday by her attorney.

The prosecutor said Diehl-Armstrong killed Roden to keep him from telling the police what he knew about the upcoming collar bomb bank heist, which prompted another outburst.

"I killed James Roden because we were fighting about the (expletive) home invasion!" she shrieked at Piccinini during cross-examination.

Later Wednesday, however, a federal agent testified that Diehl-Armstrong said during an interview that her boyfriend was killed after arguing with another collar-bomb plotter and threatened to tell authorities about the plot.

That plotter, William Rothstein, who has since died of cancer, allegedly made the collar bomb and helped Diehl-Armstrong plan the bank heist, according to earlier testimony from Barnes.

The federal agent, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent Jason Wick, said Diehl-Armstrong told agents she didn't want to talk about Roden because "the reason for Mr. Roden's death would automatically roll her into the Brian Wells, or collar bomb, case."

Diehl-Armstrong then "repeatedly made comments that she didn't want to hang herself," Wick testified.

Diehl-Armstrong also claims Rothstein and Barnes were framing her because she refused to marry Rothstein. But the prosecutor said that made no sense because Rothstein had seen to it that Diehl-Armstrong was incarcerated in Roden's death by telling police she paid him to get rid of the body, and disclosing that it was stored in a freezer in his house.

Testimony in the trial ended Wednesday and closing arguments are expected Thursday.