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US says blast victim was in on robbery

Man was killed by collar bomb

ERIE, Pa. -- A pizza deliveryman who robbed a bank and was blown up by a bomb locked around his neck helped plan the robbery and then got caught up in something "much more sinister," a federal prosecutor said yesterday.

The deliveryman, Brian Wells, 46, had told police before the bomb exploded in August 2003 that he was an innocent victim and had been forced by gunmen to rob the bank.

However, in the indictments unsealed yesterday, Wells is named a co conspirator. Two other people -- Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, who is serving a prison sentence for killing her boyfriend, and her friend Kenneth E. Barnes -- are charged with bank robbery, conspiracy, and a firearms count.

Authorities said that Diehl-Armstrong, 58, wanted the money so she could pay someone to kill her father, but that they didn't know what motive Wells might have had for getting involved.

Wells's brother, John, was visibly outraged after prosecutors held a news conference saying his brother was in on the plot. "Where is the evidence? There is no evidence. You cannot link a man when there is no evidence," John Wells said, his voice trembling with anger. "When he was accosted at gunpoint, taken from his job, that's not a co conspirator."

"Brian did not put that collar on himself," John Wells said. He also accused investigators of not doing their jobs, and said "the truth will come out."

The indictments say Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes contrived a series of notes to make Wells appear to be "merely a hostage," with the plan being to get the money from Wells in a way that if he was caught, he could contend he was an unwilling participant. According to the indictments, they locked a live bomb onto Well's neck to ensure he turned over the money.

"If he died, he could not be a witness," authorities said in the indictment.

The bomb that killed Wells was on a timer, but it was unclear whether his co conspirators planned on his death, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said yesterday. She said Wells had a limited role in the plot and she couldn't comment on what his motive might have been.

"Sadly, the plans of these other individuals were much more sinister . . . and he died as a result," Buchanan said. "It may be that his role transitioned from that of the planning stages to being an unwilling participant in the scheme."

Diehl-Armstrong is serving a state prison sentence for killing her boyfriend, James Roden. In the indictment, authorities say she killed Roden to keep him from disclosing details of the robbery plot.

Barnes, 53, is jailed in Erie County on unrelated drug charges. Authorities have described him as Diehl-Armstrong's fishing companion.

On Aug. 28, 2003, Wells set out to deliver an order for two pizzas to a mysterious address that turned out to be the location of a TV tower. He turned up about an hour later and roughly 2 miles away at a PNC Bank branch in Summit Township, with a note demanding money and saying he had a bomb.

Wells took $8,702 from a teller, got into his Geo Metro, and was surrounded by police a short time later in a parking lot. State troopers pulled him out of the car and handcuffed him.

Hanging from his neck under his T-shirt was a triple-banded metal collar and a device with a locking mechanism that kept it in place. Attached to the collar was a bomb.

"It's going to go off," Wells said. "I'm not lying." He said someone had started a timer on the bomb and forced him to rob the bank.

While police waited for a bomb squad, the bomb exploded, killing Wells.