Pa. collar bomb victim's brother: Trial a 'circus'

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 5:34 PM
Pa. collar bomb victim's brother: Trial a 'circus'

A trial examining the death of a pizza delivery driver who was killed in a collar-bomb bank robbery plot is a "circus show" that will bring the family no justice, the dead man's brother said Friday.

A jury is deliberating whether Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, 61, of Erie, is guilty of armed bank robbery and other crimes for allegedly helping to plan the Aug. 28, 2003, heist in which Brian Wells was forced to rob a bank with a time bomb locked onto his neck. The jurors spent Friday discussing the case but didn't reach a verdict and will continue their deliberations Monday.

Wells died shortly after his arrest that day, sitting handcuffed and waiting for a police bomb squad.

The dead man's brother, John Wells, 47, of Phoenix, Ariz., told The Associated Press on Friday he doesn't accept the government's contention that his brother was one of the plotters.

"This is pretty much a circus show trial," he said. "Trying to incriminate Brian in his own murder is just outrageous."

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

Wells believes authorities arrested people to take the heat off the police officers who watched his brother die. Although state troopers testified they called for the bomb squad shortly after Wells' arrest, his brother contends an FBI official at the time acknowledged a 30-minute delay.

Wells said he has no opinion about Diehl-Armstrong's involvement, only that it didn't involve his brother, which is why he has not attended the trial. His sister, Jean Held, of Erie, has taken copious notes throughout.

"She's telling me everything she's hearing," Wells said. "Brian was a completely innocent victim and I don't need to go to a trial to hear a bunch of lies about Brian."

Brian Wells, who was 46 when he died, was named an unindicted co-conspirator when Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes, 57, were indicted in July 2007. Barnes pleaded guilty and is serving 45 years in prison, though that could be reduced for testimony he gave implicating Diehl-Armstrong.

Barnes said Wells was drawn into the scheme because he frequented Barnes' crack house and sometimes consorted with a prostitute there. That woman, Jessica Hoopsick, also testified that Wells knew Barnes.

Barnes said the plot was hatched in a meeting on his front porch that was attended by Diehl-Armstrong and her longtime friend William Rothstein. Rothstein died of cancer in July 2004, but the handyman and substitute science teacher is alleged to have built the metal bomb collar using two egg timers supplied by Diehl-Armstrong.

She denied that in expletive-laced testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, and said she never saw Wells before watching evening news video of his death.

But Barnes said Wells met with the other plotters the day before the heist and even tried on the collar with Diehl-Armstrong's help.

Barnes said Wells believed at first the bomb was to be a fake that would fool a teller. But he said Wells sensed it was real when summoned to a pre-heist meeting by Rothstein, who ordered two pizzas that Wells delivered to a TV tower near Rothstein's house.

Diehl-Armstrong's attorney, Douglas Sughrue, said, "I thought I stuck up for Brian Wells. Even if you're to believe Ken Barnes, Brian Wells was tackled and forced at gunpoint, punched in the face, and forced to wear the collar against his will."

But John Wells doesn't believe any of it. His brother didn't know anything about the plot when he delivered the pizzas, he said.

"There's no connection to Brian to any of these killers at all. Brian never hung around Barnes at all. Brian might know Hoopsick, but that's all," Wells said. "I think she's saying whatever the FBI's trying to have her say. She was so cracked up I don't think she'd know the difference between Brian and Elliott Spitzer."

John Wells maintains a Web site, http://www.brianwells.net, that solicits tips and says, "Despite media stories to the contrary, this case is NOT SOLVED."

One question raised on the site is the identities of two men seen running through traffic near the robbery scene. Authorities circulated drawings of the men months after the heist.

Sughrue said government evidence shows one man was never located but the other was found, and his story checked out: He told police he was late for work and running to catch a bus.