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February 26, 2008

She'll Take Manhattan

Look out NYC, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is headed your way:

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong's next stop in the Brian Wells case will be lower Manhattan.

A federal judge in Erie has ordered the 59-year-old defendant sent to a federal prison in New York City, where she will undergo a mental-health exam to determine whether she is competent to stand trial in the August 2003 bombing death of Wells.

U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin on Monday granted the government's request to have Diehl-Armstrong transferred from the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, near Williamsport, to a federal facility -- in her case, the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Diehl-Armstrong is to be held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center "for the purpose of a psychiatric or psychological examination," according to the judge's order.

She will remain in federal custody after the examination is complete, according to the order. However, Diehl-Armstrong is expected to be held at the Erie County Prison during her yet-to-be scheduled trial at the federal courthouse in Erie.

Court records do not indicate when Diehl-Armstrong will go to New York.

Diehl-Armstrong has been at SCI Muncy since January 2005, when she pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder in the slaying of her boyfriend, James Roden, 45, in August 2003. Diehl-Armstrong, who has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, is serving a sentence of seven to 20 years for Roden's death.

Her mental-health examination is not to take more than 30 days. If federal prison officials find her mentally competent to stand trial, she will return to Erie for a hearing before McLaughlin, who will be the final arbiter of her competency.

If federal prison officials find Diehl-Armstrong mentally incompetent to stand trial, she will be held in a federal facility until she is deemed competent. That process could take years.

The prison officials are expected to focus on whether Diehl-Armstrong's mental state prevents her from cooperating with her lawyer, Thomas Patton, an assistant federal public defender, whom Diehl-Armstrong said she wants to fire.

On Monday, in a telephone interview from SCI Muncy, Diehl-Armstrong said she does not want Patton to represent her, and she said she had nothing to do with Wells' death. She said she is not on medication.

"I think it is terrible," Diehl-Armstrong said of the order sending her to New York.

She was asked whether she believes she is mentally competent to stand trial.

"I think I will be if I can get rid of Patton," she said. "I think he will drive me crazy if I have to stay with him."

Diehl-Armstrong and her co-defendant, Kenneth E. Barnes, 54, were indicted in July on charges they plotted the bank robbery that ended in the death of 46-year-old Wells after he held up a Summit Township bank on Aug. 28, 2003. He was killed when a homemade bomb locked to his neck exploded.

Barnes is in the Erie County Prison awaiting trial in the Wells case. He had been held there on a sentence in an unrelated drug case.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, Diehl-Armstrong's destination, houses male and female inmates who are awaiting trial, as well as other inmates, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Diehl-Armstrong, a one-time social worker who has a master's degree in education for school counseling, said she once had a job offer to work at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Her career was sidetracked in July 1984, when she was accused of fatally shooting her boyfriend, Robert L. Thomas, 43, in Erie. Diehl-Armstrong argued self-defense and was acquitted four years later.

Source: Erie Times-News

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