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Diehl-Armstrong v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 17, 2014

MARJORIE DIEHL-ARMSTRONG, Petitioner,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA BOARD OF PROBATION AND PAROLE, Respondents.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The petitioner in this case is a convicted murderer, and criminal recidivist, whose calculated crimes were aptly described by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the following terms:

Diehl-Armstrong, a resident and native of Erie, Pennsylvania, inherited $250, 000 upon her mother's death in July 2000. Her father also received an inheritance worth $3 million. Concerned that her father was squandering those funds, which, but for his profligacy, she thought would eventually pass to her, Diehl-Armstrong began to plot both against him and against PNC Bank, which Diehl-Armstrong believed was facilitating her father's spending.
In early 2003, Diehl-Armstrong brought a group of friends and acquaintances in on her plans. She first met with Kenneth Barnes, whom she had known for several years, and offered him $100, 000 to kill her father. She also asked him to join in the robbery of a PNC Bank branch office in Erie. The robbery plan, such as it was, involved sending someone with a bomb into the bank to demand $250, 000. Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes discussed the logistics of making a timed pipe-bomb to accomplish the task.
The robbery plot lay dormant for a few months, until a June 2003 party at Barnes's home. At the party, Diehl-Armstrong discussed her plans with Barnes and other attendees, including Jim Roden, her boyfriend at the time, and William Rothstein, a high-school shop teacher to whom she had previously been engaged. Barnes initially declined to participate in the bank robbery but acquiesced once Diehl-Armstrong stated that payment for killing her father would come out of the robbery proceeds. Roden, however, objected to the plan and threatened to notify police. To prevent this, in August 2003, Diehl-Armstrong shot and killed Roden in the home they shared. She enlisted Rothstein to assist in hiding Roden's body by placing it in a freezer at Rothstein's house. Rothstein also disposed of personal items belonging to Roden, the gun used to shoot Roden, and other evidence of the murder.
Following Roden's murder, the smaller group continued with its preparations. They planned to have an acquaintance named Brian Wells enter the bank to demand $250, 000 while strapped with a bomb. On August 28, 2003, the plan was set in motion with Rothstein attaching a bomb to Wells's collar and starting a one-hour timer on the device. Rothstein threatened to detonate the bomb if Wells did not rob the bank, and Wells then drove to the chosen PNC branch, entered, and demanded $250, 000 from the teller. The teller handed over $8, 702, and Wells fled. He had been instructed to drive to a nearby McDonald's, which he did. Upon arriving, he found a note directing him to a new location where he would supposedly find instructions to disarm the bomb. State police, however, surrounded Wells, preventing him from continuing to the next location. Wells informed police that he had a bomb around his neck and the bomb squad was called. Before their arrival, however, the bomb detonated, killing Wells.
Not long after the botched bank robbery, Diehl-Armstrong began pressuring Rothstein to dispose of Roden's body. Rothstein reacted by contacting police in September 2003 and revealing the details of Roden's murder. The police promptly arrested Diehl-Armstrong, charging both her and Rothstein with Roden's death. In the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Erie County, Diehl-Armstrong pled guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in connection with Roden's murder. She received a sentence of 7 to 20 years' imprisonment. After seeing news coverage of Diehl-Armstrong's arrest, Barnes called the coroner's office to help identify Roden's body. Based upon his identification, police began to question Barnes with respect to his knowledge of Roden's murder. In the subsequent interviews, Barnes told police about his involvement in the bank robbery plot. In addition to that information, evidence found at Rothstein's house led police to connect Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong to the bank robbery.
Meanwhile, Diehl-Armstrong initiated a series of meetings with law enforcement officials at which she volunteered information relating to the robbery. Thereafter, on July 9, 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes for armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 2113, use of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924, conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, and conspiracy to use a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence [and Diehl-Armstrong was subsequently convicted of these federal offenses.]

United States v. Diehl-Armstrong, 504 F.App'x 152, 153-54 (3d Cir. 2012) cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 958 , 184 L.Ed.2d 744 (U.S. 2013).

As a result of her state convictions, on January 7, 2005, the petitioner was sentenced in state court to Erie 84 to 240 months incarceration for violating 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(c) (Murder of the third degree) and 2 years probation for violating 18 Pa.C.S. § 5510 (Abuse of corpse). The minium term on the petitioner's state sentences expired on September 21, 2010, and the petitioner has been considered for parole on three occasions-June 22, 2011, June 21, 2012, and June 12, 2013. (Doc. 9.) On each occasion the Parole Board exercised its discretion and denied Diehl-Armstrong parole citing the heinous nature of her crimes, her minimization of her offense conduct, the pending federal detainer, the danger she presented to the community and the recommendations of prosecuting authorities that this serial killer not be released on parole. (Id.)

Dissatisfied with this outcome, Diehl-Armstrong, who is proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus which contends that the Parole Board's decision to deny her early release on parole violates her constitutional rights. This matter has been fully briefed by the parties, and is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that this petition be denied, since Diehl-Armstrong is not entitled to use a writ of habeas corpus to compel state parole officials to deviate from the parole outcome mandated by her own repeated misconduct.

III. Discussion

A. State Prisoner Habeas Relief-The ...


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