Video: Inside the collar-bomb case

By Monica Novotny MSNBC Correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 7/11/2007 7:18:05 PM ET 2007-07-11T23:18:05

This was no Hollywood blockbuster and now authorities say pizza delivery guy Brian Wells was knowingly involved in the bizarre bank robbery that led to his death nearly four years ago.

Though while it appears that he did have a limited role in at least some part of the planning stages, he was not willing to wear the collar bomb that killed him.

"We have reason to believe that at some point that he was coerced, that it was placed on his neck by another individual," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said.

Now authorities have charged two of the alleged co-conspirators, the only two still alive, Marjorie Diehl Armstrong and Kenneth E. Barnes.

Both are already in jail, Barnes on a drug charge, and Diehl Armstrong for killing her then live-in boyfriend, James Roden, in August 2003.

Prosecutors now say she murdered him to keep him quiet about her bank robbery plans.

Those plans, according to the indictment, first formulated in July of 2003 when Diehl Armstong asked Barnes to help her rob the bank to pay for her other favor.

"She also solicited him to kill her own father," Buchanan said.

As to the robbery plot, the conspirators, according to the indictment, wanted police to believe that whoever robbed the bank was a hostage, an unwilling participant.

That way, whichever conspirator committed the robbery could get away with it afterwards.

The bomb was always meant to be fully operational, capable of killing anyone near by anyone, who might expose the conspiracy.

"It was part of the plan also that if the robber died, he could not be a witness against the other co-conspirators," Buchanan said.

On the afternoon of August 28 2003, with the bomb strapped around his neck, Wells robbed the PNC bank in Summit Township, with a gun fashioned out of a cane and nine pages of instructions leading him on a deadly scavenger hunt.

Police apprehended him after the robbery.  Then, while local news cameras rolled, the bomb exploded, killing Wells. 

"You heard the explosion," said Dina McPhee, an eyewitness.  "It sounded like a gunshot, basically, a shotgun going off.  And you saw a cloud of white smoke." 

His family always claimed Brian Wells was an innocent victim targeted by the murderers.  And today's indictment hasn't changed their minds

"Brian was a complete innocent murder victim in this case," John Wells, his brother, said.  "He did not know any of these people, that's why they had to lure him to the pizza, to the tower to clamp the bomb on him."

But prosecutors say Wells met with the co-conspirators the day before the robbery, and also actually protected those who put the bomb on him.

"He was told, if he was apprehended, to say that three black men had held him down and put this bomb around his neck.  And when he was asked by law enforcement what happened, he told them this story," Buchanan said.

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