Pa. woman gets life plus 30 in collar bomb death

AP News
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Posted: Feb 28, 2011 3:01 PM
Pa. woman gets life plus 30 in collar bomb death

A Pennsylvania woman was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of her life in prison for a bank robbery plot in which a pizza delivery driver was killed by a bomb locked around his neck _ even though both she and the victim's family claim that she's innocent and that the real killers went free.

It was a strange coda to a bizarre case with a defendant to match: 62-year-old Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, the mentally ill Erie woman sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison in the bank robbery plot that killed 46-year-old Brian Wells on Aug. 28, 2003.

"I believe the investigators solved the case, and we've brought to justice those who were in a position to be prosecuted," Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini said at a news conference.

Diehl-Armstrong, already in prison for a slaying two weeks before Wells' death, has denied involvement in the plot. And Wells' sister, Jean Heid, supported her claim before Diehl-Armstrong was sentenced.

Heid reiterated the family's belief that Diehl-Armstrong was just a pawn and that Wells wasn't a co-conspirator, as federal prosecutors allege.

"My brother was a bomb hostage, not a bomber," Heid nearly shouted at one point in her statement to U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin.

"My heart goes out to the family," Diehl-Armstrong said before she was sentenced. "The true killers is still out there."

Prosecutors contend Diehl-Armstrong and others plotted to lock the bomb onto Wells' neck, then sent him to rob a PNC Bank in neighboring Millcreek Township because Diehl-Armstrong wanted to hire her fishing buddy, Kenneth Barnes, to kill her father.

According to prosecutors, they were assisted by William Rothstein, Diehl-Armstrong's ex-boyfriend, who built the bomb collar using two egg timers she provided and helped force Wells _ who prosecutors say may have gotten cold feet _ to wear it.

Rothstein was drawn into the case when he called police in September 2003 to report having the body of James Roden, 45, in his garage freezer. Diehl-Armstrong later pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder _ and is still serving her seven- to 20-year sentence for his shotgun killing 18 days before Wells died.

Piccinini contends she killed Roden because he planned to tell authorities about the collar bomb plot. Diehl-Armstrong said Roden knew nothing about the plot because she wasn't involved in it, either, and that she killed him, instead, in a fit of anger that ended an abusive 10-year relationship.

Heid blamed two other men, a co-worker of her brother's who died of an overdose and Rothstein's then-roommate, who couldn't be linked to the plot.

The victim's brother, John Wells, 47, of Phoenix, called the case last fall a "circus show trial" that would bring the family no justice, and Heid reiterated those claims Monday. She told The Associated Press after the sentencing that Rothstein blackmailed Diehl-Armstrong because he knew of Roden's murder and manipulated her into being in places that made her appear to be part of the plot.

"I believe she was set up by Rothstein. ... He held the body of Roden over her head," Heid said.

Diehl-Armstrong's attorney, Douglas Sughrue, said that he'll likely continue to represent her during her federal appeals, and that he agrees with some of what Heid believes.

"I have never spoken with the Wells family, but I think it's a fair interpretation of the facts" to believe that Diehl-Armstrong was framed and manipulated, Sughrue said. But he does not believe, like Wells' family, that law enforcement officials didn't do enough to save him that day.

Heid contends that police didn't call a bomb squad soon enough _ though troopers testified at trial that one was called as soon as police confirmed there was a bomb _ and that she was especially angry that investigators allowed Wells' head to be cut from his corpse so they could remove the bomb collar without destroying what was left of the device.

"More respect was shown for the destructive device than for Brian's body," Heid told the judge.

Police stopped Wells' car shortly after he took $8,701 from the bank, and he sat handcuffed on the pavement as officers took cover while waiting for a bomb squad.

"All the more haunting to us were Brian's last words caught on the (local TV news) video tape," Heid said. "'I don't have a lot of time. It's gonna go off. I'm not lying. When is someone gonna come and get this thing off of me?'"