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Pa. collar-bomb defendant denies involvement

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong
Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong appears at a hearing at the Erie County Courthouse in Erie, Pa. She is accused of masterminding a bizarre 2003 bank robbery plot that ended with the death of a pizza delivery driver who had been forced to wear a bomb collar during the heist.Janet B. Campbell / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman accused of helping to plan a bizarre bank robbery plot that ended with the death of a man forced to wear a bomb collar told jurors Wednesday that she couldn't have been involved because she was angry at one of the plotters and suspected he had stolen money from her.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, 61, testified her house was robbed in May 2003 by a knife-wielding man who stole $133,000 she kept in a bag. 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.

Diehl-Armstrong and her attorney, Douglas Sughrue, contend she knew Barnes and others who planned the Aug. 28, 2003, robbery but wasn't a part of the plot herself. To bolster that assertion, she testified that she was so angry with Barnes about the robbery at her home that there was no way she would have worked along side him to plot the collar-bomb heist three months later.

In expletive-filled testimony that U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin had to interrupt several times because she spoke too fast or went on wild tangents, Diehl-Armstrong said the knife-wielding robber she claimed attacked her about 3:45 a.m. that May morning "knew right were the money was. That's how I knew it was an inside job."

Nobody was ever charged in the robbery of her house, though Diehl-Armstrong filed a private 25-page complaint with police.

At the time, Diehl-Armstrong was living with her boyfriend, 45-year-old James Roden. She's now serving seven to 20 years in state prison after pleading guilty but mentally ill to killing him a couple weeks before the collar bomb heist.

Prosecutors claim she killed Roden because he was supposed to be the getaway driver for the bank robbery and had threatened to go to the police, but she said she killed him in a fight they had because he wasn't doing enough to find out who robbed her.

Diehl-Armstrong said she sent the hard-drinking Roden to various taverns to find someone "spending money like a drunken sailor" thinking that might lead to clues about who robbed her.

Barnes, 57, has pleaded guilty and is serving 45 years for his role in the collar bomb heist. He has testified that Diehl-Armstrong wanted to use the proceeds from the bank robbery to pay him to kill her father.

Barnes said another man, William Rothstein, also was involved and built the bomb collar that killed pizza delivery driver Brian Wells. Wells was allegedly a plotter, too, but nonetheless forced to wear the bomb collar against his will before it exploded, killing him, after he had been arrested and handcuffed by state police, prosecutors said.

Rothstein, who has since died of cancer, came to the authorities' attention when he called police in September 2003 to turn in Diehl-Armstrong for killing Roden. He said Diehl-Armstrong gave him $75,000 to get rid of the body. Rothstein put the body in a freezer at his home, telling police that was Diehl-Armstrong's idea but that she eventually proposed chopping up his body and feeding it through and ice crusher to get rid of it.

She disputed that on the stand, acknowledging she asked Rothstein to get Roden's body out of her house but that she didn't know what he did with it. She said the ice crusher Rothstein mentioned was a small device used to make mixed drinks, not something that could have been used to grind up a body. She also said she was livid when she found out Roden's body was in the freezer.

"Who do you think you are, Jeffery Dahmer?" she said she told Rothstein.

Diehl-Armstrong's testimony was going slower than expected because her bipolar disorder causes her to speak incessantly, prompting the judge to admonish her and her attorney. Meanwhile, the defendant turned on her attorney during a brief recess because she apparently believes he's not questioning her in enough detail.

Her testimony was expected to continue for much of the day.