Wednesday, November 3, 2010 Close, But No (Lethal Exploding) Cigar

From yesterday's USA Today (USA Yesterday?):
Pa. woman guilty in fatal 'pizza bomber' bank robbery

Nov 01, 2010

A federal jury has convicted a 61-year-old Erie, Pa., woman for a 2003 bank robbery in which she outfitted an accomplice with a collar bomb that later killed him.

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was convicted of criminal conspiracy, bank robbery and using a weapon during a crime of violence in the so- called pizza bomber case. She will be sentenced Feb. 28 to life in prison plus 30 years.

She was accused of plotting to rob a PNC branch with several others, including pizza deliveryman Brian Wells, who walked into the bank carrying a shotgun fashioned to look like a cane and with an explosive device locked around his chest and neck. He fled with more than $8,000 but was apprehended soon after. The device exploded while he was handcuffed and state police waited for the bomb squad, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains.

Wells, who was 46, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. His family doesn't believe he was part of the plot and was instead murdered. Last week, his brother called the proceedings "a circus show trial."

Diehl-Armstrong has been in prison since 2005 for pleading guilty but mentally ill in the shooting death of her boyfriend, and earlier this year she was diagnosed with cancer and given three to seven years to live, GoErie reports.

Other sources are claiming that Diehl-Armstrong's murdered boyfriend was one of the co-conspirators, and that a fourth man who may have been involved has since died of cancer. Wikipedia has more info on the case in their article on the victim, Brian Wells, including a picture of the shotgun cane.
A note found on Wells had instructions for him to carry out four tasks — the first of which was the bank robbery — in a set period of time before the bomb went off. Wells would gain extra time with the completion of each task. However, it was later determined that regardless of what had unfolded, Wells would never have had enough time to complete the tasks to get the bomb defused.

I have to give mad props to the woman for fully embracing her inner criminal mastermind. Deathtraps and gadget guns and mindgames - fabulous. However, I can't decide if she took things too far, or not far enough.

First off, she used the bomb collar on one of her own minions. Big mistake. There's this thing called "known associates" that really help law enforcement types track down everyone involved with a crime, which is a major reason why bad guys in the movies always grab some random schlub off the street for this sort of plot. Even if your mark is terrified for his life, there's still a chance he might accidentally blurt out something that will lead the cops straight to your door, so less he knows about you the better.

Her second mistake was bumping off members of her gang, as killing subordinates who displease you only works in media. There, when henchmen see one of their own get whacked for making a simple mistakes, they become more motivated. In real life, they turn state's evidence. Which is exactly what happened here. Betraying the "pizza bomber" was bad enough, but dispatching your own lover sends the message that no one is safe.

The trickiest part of a bank robbery is the escape. Any fool can march into a bank waving a gun and be rewarded with cash for his efforts, but getting back home with the loot is another thing entirely. The police will no doubt have video footage of the getaway vehicle and the longer it spends farting around town the better the chance they have of catching up with it. Which is why complicating things with a series of timed tasks is a huge error, unless number one on the list is dropping off the money at a safe location. I mean, I liked Die Hard 3 as much as the next guy, but get the cash in your hands before you start making the puppets dance to your tune.

So in conclusion, I applaud the sheer supervillany on display here, but the execution left a little to be desired. Fortunately, the perpetrator will have plenty of time in prison to reflect on her mistakes and perfect her next criminal scheme, which she will no doubt implement as soon as her cyborg gorillas spring her from jail.