- Associated Press - Monday, November 1, 2010

ERIE, Pa. | A 61-year-old woman was convicted of participating in a bizarre plot in which a pizza-delivery driver was forced to rob a bank wearing a metal bomb collar that later exploded, killing him.

The jury deliberated about 12 hours Friday and Monday before convicting Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, of Erie, on charges of armed bank robbery, conspiracy and using a destructive device in a crime of violence for her role in the bank robbery that killed Brian Wells, 46. She faces a mandatory life sentence.

The verdict was the final piece of the puzzle in a robbery plot so complicated it seemed to spring from the pages of a Hollywood script.

Mr. Wells walked into a PNC bank on Aug. 28, 2003, with a metal collar bomb locked onto his neck. He walked out with $8,702 but was stopped nearby by police, who put him in handcuffs and waited for a bomb squad to arrive. Before it did, the bomb exploded, killing Mr. Wells.

Prosecutors later revealed that they thought the crime had been plotted by five people. Mr. Wells was in on it, at least at first, and probably only realized as he was forced to wear the bomb collar in the minutes before the heist that his life was in danger, they said. Diehl-Armstrong and three other men were also involved, prosecutors said. One had died of cancer. Another was killed by Diehl-Armstrong. The third pleaded guilty and testified against her.

Mr. Wells‘ family still thinks he is an innocent victim who was never in on the heist. His brother, John Wells, on Friday called the case a “circus show trial” that would bring the family no justice.

Defense attorney Douglas Sughrue argued that Diehl-Armstrong‘s mental disorders and a hostile relationship with at least one of the plotters made it unlikely she participated. In bombastic, expletive-filled testimony over two days, Diehl-Armstrong acknowledged knowing two other plotters — but not Brian Wells — and argued they were framing her.

She sparred with Mr. Sughrue throughout the trial and criticized his questions when she testified. After the verdict, she took a parting shot.

The two whispered as Diehl-Armstrong asked Mr. Sughrue whether she could keep $1,200 worth of clothes he had purchased for her court appearances, the lawyer said. He told her he would “take care of” it.

“Like you took care of this case that you didn’t do your job on?” she said loudly. “There’ll be an appeal, that’s all I have to say,” she announced before U.S. marshals led her from the courtroom.

Mr. Sughrue said afterward that he had no reaction to the verdict and would continue representing Diehl-Armstrong. Her sentencing is Feb. 28.

The defense had largely tried to blame one of the plotters Diehl-Armstrong acknowledged knowing.

That man, William Rothstein, was a handyman and substitute science teacher who prosecutors say constructed the bomb collar using two egg timers supplied by Diehl-Armstrong. He has since died of cancer.

Another plotter, Kenneth Barnes, 57, pleaded guilty and is serving 45 years in prison. He testified Diehl-Armstrong planned the heist because she wanted to use the money to pay Barnes to kill her father.

Despite her denials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini told the jury Diehl-Armstrong was involved “up to her eyeballs.”

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