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United States v. Diehl-Armstrong

October 8, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MARJORIE DIEHL-ARMSTRONG



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Defendant, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is charged in this criminal matter with one count each of bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. These charges stem from the August 28, 2003 collar-bomb robbery in Erie, Pennsylvania, which resulted in the death of Brian Wells.

Presently pending before the Court in the above-captioned case is the Defendant's motion to suppress certain statements she made to law enforcement officers in the course of the criminal investigation leading to these charges. The Defendant has argued that her various statements should be suppressed either because: (1) she was mentally incompetent at the time she made them; (2) she was not given proper Miranda warnings before making them; (3) the lawyer who was present during many of her pre-indictment meetings with law enforcement was either (a) not acting as her lawyer or (b) acting under a conflict of interest and/or otherwise deficiently, thereby depriving her of her right to effective assistance of counsel; or (4) she was induced into making the statements by promises of a prison transfer, immunity and/or other benefits or consideration.

The Government has filed a brief in opposition to this motion, and the Court held an evidentiary hearing on October 4, 2010. At the hearing, the Court received numerous exhibits into evidence and heard testimony from Special Agent Gerald Clark of the FBI, Captain Robert Rogers of the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs, Lawrence D'Ambrosio, Esq., and Bruce A. Antkowiak, Esq. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

Based upon the relevant testimony and evidence presented during the suppression hearing and applicable law, the Court issues the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(d). For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion will be denied.

FINDINGS OF FACT

In January of 2005 Defendant pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the third-degree murder of her former boyfriend, James Roden. She was sentenced to a term of 7-to-20 years of imprisonment. Following mental health treatment at the Mayview State Hospital, she was transferred to SCI-Muncy to serve out the term of her imprisonment.

On April 7, 2005, during the course of her incarceration at SCI-Muncy, Defendant was interviewed by Corporal David M. Gluth of the Pennsylvania State Police concerning information she had supplied relative to a 1989 homicide in Venango County, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of that interview, the Defendant indicated that she had some information to offer concerning the Brian Wells case. She disclosed that an individual by the name of William Rothstein was involved in the incident and described him as being consumed with the news accounts of the case. She also spoke of an individual with the name "Stockton" as someone she thought was involved in the robbery. In addition, the Defendant stated that Brian Wells was known by Rothstein and had actually been to Rothstein's house prior to the collar-bomb incident. During this interview, Defendant's information about the Wells case was vague and she appeared to be very nervous when pressed for details. She showed a reluctance to discuss any information concerning Roden and his possible involvement in the case. Though the interview was cut short due to time constraints, the Defendant told Cpl. Gluth that she would entertain another interview in the future, if necessary. (Govt. Ex. 1.)

Defendant was subsequently visited at SCI-Muncy on April 20, 2005 by FBI Special Agent Gerald C. Clark, Jr., the lead investigator in charge of the Wells case, and Special Agent Jason Wick of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives. This interview was held in the basement of the security office at SCI-Muncy upon the arrangement of Lt. Sisley, a Muncy prison official. The Defendant arrived on her own at the security office, having walked freely from her housing unit to the assigned location for the interview. During the course of the meeting, the Defendant stood closest to the door, which remained ajar, with Lt. Sisley present in the adjacent office. The demeanor of all parties was calm.

During the course of this interview, the Defendant disclosed that Rothstein had told her he was involved in the Wells case. She reiterated that Rothstein and Wells had been acquainted with one another, and she attributed to Rothstein both a financial motive for the robbery and the capability of building explosives. She claimed that Rothstein had talked Wells into participating in the robbery and wearing the explosive device. She also mentioned the name of her attorney, Larry D'Ambrosio, and identified him as someone who knew Wells and Rothstein to be friends. Defendant denied being with Rothstein during the afternoon of August 28, 2003 and stated that she had been at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Peach Street during the time of the collar-bomb incident. The interview ended with the Defendant indicating that she had more information to share, but she wanted a transfer to SCI-Cambridge Springs and asked that the agents check into that for her. (Govt. Ex. 2.)

Approximately two days later, the Defendant sent a handwritten letter to the Pennsylvania State Police in which she recounted her recent cooperation with law enforcement on a variety of matters, including the Wells case, and her desire to be transferred to the State Correctional Institution in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. Defendant's letter requested assistance from the officers with whom she had spoken in effectuating the transfer so that she could be closer to her power of attorney and family and keep in better contact with them. (Govt. Ex. 3.)

Defendant sent additional correspondence to Cpl. Gluth on or around May 18, 2005 pertaining to her continued desire to effectuate a transfer from SCI-Muncy to SCI-Cambridge Springs. In this letter, the Defendant discussed the fact that a counselor and unit manager were upset that Special Agent Clark had contacted the prison administration to discuss the possibility of a transfer. She suggested that Cpl. Gluth might try contacting the prison superintendent, and she urged him to not give up and not "let these underlings hold [her] up here." (Govt. Ex. 4.) She professed her hatred of SCI-Muncy and the fact that she has to be around "crazy people." She also referenced her desire to get off medication but states that she "will take medication if it is necessary to go to Cambridge Springs, anything to go there." (Id.) She closed her letter by expressing thanks to Cpl. Gluth and Agent Clark for their efforts. (Id.)

Defendant was interviewed again by Agents Clark and Wick on May 23, 2005 while she was at the Erie County Jail on unrelated state court matters. Although the agents were not responsible for Defendant's presence in Erie on that date, they decided to make contact with her in an attempt to gather more information concerning the collar-bomb incident.

During this meeting, the Defendant again expressed her desire to be transferred from SCI-Muncy to SCI-Cambridge Springs. She continued to provide certain information concerning the Wells matter. She again referenced Larry D'Ambrosio as a friend and attorney and stated that he wanted to speak with investigators as he had information about the case. She spoke of another party who had reportedly seen Rothstein carrying a cane gun in a grocery store prior to the collar-bomb incident. She stated that Rothstein hated Roden. Defendant did not wish to respond to questions regarding materials involved in the explosive device that Rothstein purchased, nor did she respond when asked about timers. She indicated to the agents that she had more information to share about the case but was withholding it in exchange for a transfer to SCI Cambridge Springs. She also expressed concern about people thinking that she was involved in the case and newspapers printing headlines suggesting that she had made the bomb. (Govt. Ex. 5.)

During the course of this interview, the Defendant remained calm. The agents were likewise calm and neutral in their tone toward her. The interview was ended nonchalantly by the Defendant.

The following day, the agents contacted Mr. D'Ambrosio and arranged an afternoon meeting to discuss his information about the Wells case. Also that day, the agents had a follow-up contact with the Defendant, at which time she inquired whether any progress had been made toward effectuating her transfer to SCI-Cambridge Springs. She was advised that attempts were being made to facilitate her transfer. This meeting with the Defendant was once again low key and was terminated by mutual agreement with the understanding that the agents would meet with Mr. D'Ambrosio later that day. (Govt. Ex. 6.)

On June 2, 2005, Defendant sent another letter addressed to Cpl. Gluth outlining her recent conversations with Agents Clark and Wick and requesting that both Gluth and Clark write her back concerning the status of her transfer request. In this letter, the Defendant advised Cpl. Gluth that the officers might have more success pursuing her transfer request with the prison Superintendent rather than with her unit manager. (Govt. Ex. 8.)

In fact, Special Agent Clark did take steps to secure the requested transfer. On June 22, 2005, the Defendant was transferred to SCI-Cambridge Springs and remained there for approximately two months until being transferred back to SCI-Muncy. The Department of Corrections Transfer Petition indicates that she was sent to Cambridge Springs in order "to facilitate a criminal investigation." (Def.'s Ex. A.) She was returned to Muncy in late August due to the fact that Muncy is higher security institution and SCI-Cambridge Springs officials wanted the Defendant transferred back to a more secure prison setting.

During the interim, while the Defendant was at SCI-Cambridge Springs, Agent Clark contacted Mr. D'Ambrosio as well as Captain Robert Rogers, the liaison between the prison and outside law enforcement, in order to arrange another meeting with the Defendant. Agents Clark and Wick met with the Defendant at SCI-Cambridge Springs on July 5, 2005, this time in the presence of Mr. D'Ambrosio, who accompanied the agents to the prison.

Upon the agents' and Mr. D'Ambrosio's arrival, Captain Rogers placed a call to the Defendant's housing unit, and the Defendant walked freely across the prison courtyard to the interview site without handcuffs or an escort. The meeting took place in the security office in an area generally secluded from other inmates.

Prior to the commencement of the interview, the Defendant had a conversation with Mr. D'Ambrosio in the presence of Agent Clark during which she expressed concern about being charged in the collar-bomb case with conspiracy or as an accessory and inquired of Mr. D'Ambrosio whether she needed an immunity letter. She indicated that she did not want to "hang herself" with her statements and was worried about her own involvement in the plot through knowledge and assistance to others. Despite her concerns, Mr. D'Ambrosio encouraged the Defendant to share what she knew about Rothstein's involvement in the case. During this interview, the Defendant indicated for the first time that James Roden had been killed due to an argument between Roden and Rothstein whereby Roden had threatened to reveal the collar-bomb plot. Defendant did not want to discuss whom Roden was supposedly going to tell and she declined to talk about the details of his death for fear that her knowledge about the matter would implicate her. The Defendant further stated in this interview that Roden and Rothstein were jealous of each other because of their mutual interest in her. When asked about timers utilized in the explosive device, Defendant turned to D'Ambrosio and asked, "Is it okay?" and D'Ambrosio indicated "Yes." Defendant then revealed that she had provided Rothstein with two relatively new kitchen/egg timers sometime in June of 2003 at his request. When asked why she had not provided this information initially, Defendant replied that she did not want to hurt herself. The Defendant also spoke of Rothstein purchasing shotgun shells at K-Mart and claimed to have witnessed him open and empty the contents of several shells on two occasions. She denied any knowledge as to what he did with the contents of the shells. (Govt. Ex. 9.)

In the meantime, the criminal investigation into the collar-bomb robbery had become extremely active and the agents continued to gather information implicating the Defendant in the plot. On July 15, 2005, Agent Clark had a conversation with Mr. D'Ambrosio concerning the Defendant's attempt to obtain immunity from the U.S. Attorney's office. However, as an investigating officer, Agent Clark was not in a position to offer the Defendant immunity and, moreover, he was aware that the U.S. Attorney's Office was not going to be making any offers of immunity to her.

Agent Clark spoke with Mr. D'Ambrosio again on January 9, 2006. At that point, the criminal investigation was progressing rapidly and the agents were continuing to get information from a co-conspirator in the plot that incriminated the Defendant. Agent Clark contacted Mr. D'Ambrosio for the purpose of sharing this information and verifying that he was continuing to represent the Defendant. Mr. D'Ambrosio confirmed that he was still representing the Defendant and indicated to Agent Clark that he would contact his client concerning these matters and let the agents know about setting up a meeting as quickly as possible.

That meeting took place on February 10, 2006 when Agents Clark and Wick again met with the Defendant for an interview coordinated through Mr. D'Ambrosio. On that date, the agents met with the Defendant and Mr. D'Ambrosio at the Erie County Prison, where the Defendant was being housed in conjunction with civil proceedings pending in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas. The parties initially gathered in one of the prison's several attorney-client rooms adjacent to the visitors' room. The attorney-client room is a locked, secured area enclosed by thick glass. The room offers limited privacy because while individuals outside of the room can see in, the sound would generally be muted at normal conversational level. Consistent with normal prison policy, it is likely that the Defendant was shackled inside the room.

At the outset of this meeting, the Defendant was Mirandized. She signed an Advice of Rights form acknowledging her rights which was witnessed by Agent Wick and Mr. D'Ambrosio. (Govt. Ex. 11.) The purpose of this meeting, from Agent Clark's perspective, was to confront the Defendant with the fact that the agents had developed leads through their investigation bearing on her role in the collar-bomb plot which, they felt, were strong enough to lead to her indictment even without the benefit of any statements she had given. The agents communicated this to the Defendant and advised her that, if she was going to give information concerning her involvement in the matter, now was the time to do so. During ...


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