ERIE, Pa. - A man who took part in a bizarre bank robbery plot that turned deadly when a bomb affixed to the neck of a pizza deliveryman exploded was sentenced yesterday to 45 years in federal prison.
Kenneth Barnes was "intimately involved" in the plot and not just a minor player, U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin said. Barnes had suggested bomb parts, provided magazine articles about bomb-making and was present when the bomb was put on Brian Wells before he robbed a bank in 2003, McLaughlin said.
Barnes, 55, of Erie, apologized to Wells' family before the sentence was imposed.
"What happened to him was something that wasn't supposed to happen," Barnes said.
Barnes had pleaded guilty in September to using a destructive device during a crime of violence and conspiracy to commit bank robbery. The prison term was beyond the 30-year mandatory minimum.
Prosecutors have concluded that Wells initially was an active member in the scheme, but was coerced as the plot unfolded. When he realized that the bomb was real, he refused to put it on and did so only after being threatened with a gun, prosecutors have said.
Wells' family, however, continues to assert that he was an innocent victim who had no role in planning the robbery.
The investigation into the convoluted scheme began when Wells, 46, walked into a PNC Bank branch on the outskirts of Erie on Aug. 28, 2003, with a pipe bomb locked onto his neck. He presented a teller with a note demanding money and walked away with about $8,700.
Wells was cornered by police shortly after and told officers the bomb had been put on his neck at gunpoint. It exploded, killing him, as officers waited for a bomb squad to arrive.