Actually, to be honest, this doesn't elicit laughter from me. What it does do is confuse the hell out of me. In the British justice system we sort of work on the basis that someone is either guilty or not guilty. Heck, it works for us.


The Rev. Don Armstrong has called the disposition Friday of his criminal theft case "divine intervention."

Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, whose office provided a special prosecutor, called the disposition "just." And the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, which last year took back Grace Church in civil court from Armstrong after he became an Anglican priest, said the end of the criminal case would bring "healing to all those harmed by Armstrong's actions." Yet reports and interpretation of the plea deal have created confusion. Armstrong, 61, and his attorney, Dennis Hartley, have said in statements and interviews recently that the charges were reduced to one "fictitious" count of misdemeanor theft. They called it close to a dismissal.

"It is still his contention he did nothing wrong," Hartley said Monday.

Armstrong also entered an Alford plea, which means pleading guilty with a protestation of innocence, to a single misdemeanor charge. The agreement states there is no factual basis to the misdemeanor charge, but the defendant pleads to it to obtain the benefit of the plea agreement.

COMMENT: We are sad to report that during that last sentence MadPriest's head exploded.



  1. I too would have been happier in this particular case if the criminal was hanged, drawn and quartered (must have been my English blood surging through my resentments).


  2. Though it pains me to say so, perhaps the Scots are on to something with their concept of ‘not proven’. That certainly would have been the verdict for ol’ O.J.

  3. Plea bargaining is a way to resolve cases. It permits the State to convict the guilty without a trial in cases where it is clear the defense cannot win while permitting the guilty some ability to negotiate. That is the (more or less) official version.

    The truth is a bit less pretty. We elect our prosecutors in most States. At election time, the percentage of charged criminals convicted is available to challengers as a fact that can be laid to the incumbent. So when someone is charged the prosecutor tends to use every law available. A rape is also kidnapping as the victim is held against her will, it is battery as she is physically harmed, it is probably assault as she is threatened and it may be 3 or 4 other things.

    Then the prosecutor’s deputy and the defendant’s lawyer can sort through the indictment, agree that the mope in question did something but that to make life easier on all concerned, said mope will plead guilty to a single item. The prosecutor gets his conviction, the State saves a ton of money, the courts clear some backlog, the defense limits the time the mope serves in a horribly overcrowded prison and the victim does not have to go through testimony.

    I hate it. Pick the law that makes the most sense for the context, charge the mope, convict the mope if you can and let the court and prison deal with the mope. But that is not how what we call with only unconscious irony the, “criminal justice system” works here. It is indeed criminal but it is what the elected courts and elected prosecutors produce.

    In a rational world we would appoint the judges for a non-repeatable or life term (either works) and prosecutors would be covered by the civil service act. But for some long boring historical reasons we don’t.



  4. The election of sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys etc. is an anathema to us Brits. But it is something we will no doubt have to get used to as our new extreme right wing government is talking up the imposition of a similar system in England. Why? Because they do it in the US.

  5. The mystery in this case, for me at least, is why the hell didn’t this happen at least a year ago? It would have saved so much money(on both sides) if he had pled this earlier. Armstrong thinks he hasn’t admitted guilt, but by pleading no contest, he does get convicted. Of course much more money could have been really saved if he hadn’t stolen it in the first place.

  6. As I recall from episodes of Rumpole – you have “plea bargaining” of a sort as well. Unless we simply return to the good old days of British justice where everything is a hanging offense, we probably have to live with it. 🙂

  7. Plea bargening seems an astonishing way for a Christian to accept that he did wrong.

    Yeah, God, I’m sorry I screwed up, but you could ignore that big mess over there in favour of all those other nice things I did. Deal?

  8. Susan,
    the reason it didn’t get settled too quickly is that, when that happens, the lawyers hardly make any money.

    Armstrong’s lawyer, Dennis Hartley, is profiled on the American Trial Lawyers’ Association as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in the country. (one of his past clients was Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh, who got a much less favorable result than Armstrong). He probably charges a minimum of $500 an hour, and that’s the discount rate for poor persecuted men of the cloth like Armstrong. If they had settled way back when the indictment came down, he wouldn’t have made enough money to make it worth his while. Trial was scheduled to start October 18, so Hartley has probably billed at least in the high 5-figure range for all the pre-trial preparation (but still can tell Armstrong he saved $100,000 that it would have cost to actually try the case)

  9. Yes, Jim, I know, but you can understand my frustration. Those “Top Lawyers” irritate me no end!

    Those lawyers are aphaine in the ass until you need one. Then they’re aphaine in the pocketbook!

  10. Susan S

    I understand your frustration, but a trial date has a way of focusing everyone’s attention. Laying out your case to 6-14 (depending on the jurisdiction) people who may not really want to be there IS intimidating for the prosecutor and the defendant. If the trial date had been set sooner, I have no doubt settlement would have occurred sooner.

    The man had to plead guilty to something. The judge, who still must approve of the arrangement, would reject it otherwise.

    You can safely disregard any assertion of a “clean slate,” or “almost acquittal.” No such thing has occurred. The misdemeanor conviction and the felony “no contest” plea gives the man a criminal record. “Delayed sentencing” will not obviate the actual conviction, even if set aside.

    Felony conviction is a serious matter regardless of the actual sentence. Try to get a job with one on your record. The misdemeanor admission is to a crime involving truthfulness; i.e. you took something (of small value in this case) that wasn’t yours and kept it. Would you prefer to see if something of greater value ends up missing?

    I do wonder what its like to have a felon for your spiritual leader.

  11. Thanks, Point of Order.
    MadPriest, Armstrong allegedly used most of what went missing to pay his kids college expenses. So I don’t know where the lawyer will get his money.

  12. Please remember that Mr. Armstrong had a big ¨moneyman¨ who seemed willing to ¨play¨ along with the takeover campaign caper (wasn´t there a big loan–guaranteed–paid to Armstrongs Grace and St. Stephens gang by a dreaded dude in Nebraska?).

  13. The whole thing is a tragedy. I am not the only regular here who knows him. Armstrong is a nice guy most of the time, bright, charming and I think in his own mind dedicated to the truth. His sin is arrogance, taking money because after all he is on God’s side and the money was for God’s work. His career and record are forever stained, his parishioners are victims, his family are victims, the church are victims and all for arrogance.

    The so called legal system is its own tragedy. We neither do justice nor seek truth, we conclude cases.

    I wonder what Bp. Minns will do if the court does not send him to prison? If he does get time, the bishop can quietly suspend his license but what if he is on probation? He is wrong and convicted but unlikely to go quietly into well deserved disgrace.