Received by email from Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal, Colorado Springs.
Armstrong Plea Agreement [Attached]
Online Tidings Special Edition
September 21, 2010
A Letter from Father Zimmerman
Dear People of God,
This is a special edition of Tidings. And, it is one we had not planned on. Truth, clarity, and good communications have made it necessary.
On Thursday of last week, September 16th, I received a phone call from Bishop O'Neill, who was attending the House of Bishops meeting in Phoenix, AZ, informing me confidently that a plea agreement between the special prosecutor and Don Armstrong was to be entered the next day. Bishop O'Neill emphasized several points to me:
* Neither Bishop O'Neill, nor anyone in the diocese, was a party to the agreement, or had approved it. The diocesan chancellor had been informed of the pending agreement as a professional courtesy because the diocese was the injured party in the criminal charges that the state had brought against Don Armstrong.
* The agreement included essentially two provisions: a plea of no contest to a third class felony of grand theft with deferred judgement and sentence and a de-facto guilty (Alford) plea to a misdemeanor charge of theft. A no contest plea has the same legal status as a felony conviction.
*A sentencing hearing would take place later in which the chancellor would represent the diocese as the injured party in establishing restitution.
Bishop O'Neill was hopeful that the plea could bring closure to a painful ordeal in the diocese and our parish. In our tradition, forgiveness of sin and healing begins with confession. The bishop hoped that Don Armstrong's no contest plea could begin healing for Don and Jesse and all who had been hurt by his actions.
On Friday morning the diocesan chancellor, Larry Hitt, spoke with our senior warden, Lynn Olney, and me. Mr. Hitt informed us that the agreement had been reached, but asked me to tell only our wardens and communications chair until it appeared in the press. Even though the agreement was made in open court and is a matter of public record, the bishop wanted to be respectful of Don Armstrong's need to release the information to his congregation. Clelia deMoraes, chair of our communications committee, spoke with the diocesan communications director and all agreed that no statement from our parish was necessary, because the diocese was preparing a statement of all know facts. By Friday night news of the agreement had been posted on the Denver Post's website, and the diocesan statement had been posted on the diocesan website. We planned to announce it to the vestry and parish members at our retreat at Cathedral Ridge, which was to take place the next day.
On Saturday morning, I read the diocesan statement to parishioners and vestry during our morning worship. I asked for a moment of silent reflection, and made no further comment on the agreement. During the course of the retreat, several people expressed to me the hope that the agreement would bring closure to a painful episode in our life, relief that parishioners would be spared the ordeal of testifying again in court. I believe most of us were hopeful and relieved by the news of the agreement.
By Sunday morning, however, a number of people had read the Parish Response to Father Armstrong's Plea Agreement on St. George's website, and blogs that commented on that Parish Response; neither made mention of the felony plea and continued to represent the state's criminal charges as a vendetta of the Episcopal bishop.
On Monday, after conferring with Mr. Hitt, our senior warden and the communications chair, I agreed to the need for a special issue of Tidings that would communicate the facts as we knew them to the congregation as a whole.
In addition, I want to take this opportunity to emphasize and clarify a number of points that have been obscured by reporting on the Armstrong case:
1. Don Armstrong had already been charged by an ecclesiastical court of the Diocese of Colorado of financial misconduct as Rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Church, and had been inhibited by the bishop from functioning as a priest in the diocese, when he tried to take possession of the parish facilities and leave the Episcopal Church.
2. The North American association of congregations that Don Armstrong has affiliated with is not part of the Episcopal Church, and has no seating at Lambeth Conference when the bishops of the Anglican Communion convene.
3. The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Colorado, and Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, include "liberals" and "conservatives" within one Holy Communion, but have no ill feelings toward anyone who feels that God is calling them not to belong to our communion. In particular, we bear no ill will towards the people of St. George's Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church has an "open communion rail" at which all baptized Christians are welcomed.
4. Neither Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, nor the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado was a party to the criminal charges brought against Don Armstrong by the State of Colorado as a result of an independent grand jury investigation. Nor were we asked by the state to approve or comment on the settlement of the case by plea agreement.
5. None of the criminal charges brought against Don Armstrong by the State of Colorado had anything to do with theology.
Let me add also that I believe the agreement that was reached between Don Armstrong and the special prosecutor has the opportunity for closure and healing. We can feel relief that none of our members will have to undergo the stress of testifying at another trial, and can hope that wounds which have healed will not be reopened again.
Finally, let me say that it continues to be a personal joy to have become part of the communion and fellowship of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. I am often asked by people who are not members of our parish if there is anger or a desire for vengeance in our Church. I can truthfully say that I have been amazed and gratified by the mature Christian faith and joy that I have discovered here. I know that there is pain that lingers, and a sense of betrayal by one in whom we had placed trust, but I also know that we have discovered that God works in all things for good for those who love the Lord, and that out of the hardship of the past few years much good has come. As one member of the parish expressed it to me, "our time in exile taught my children what I could never have explained to them: that the Church is not a building, but the people."
Yours, in Christ,
A Letter from Chancellor Lawrence Hitt
Dear Father Steve, Wardens, Vestry and Members:
In light of the substantial misinformation from Donald Armstrong about the plea bargain which he agreed to in open court last week, let me share with you our understanding of the plea agreement, a copy of which is attached in full so that you may read it for yourselves.
As you may know, the special prosecutor has sole responsibility for decisions about the criminal case, and as such, neither the diocese nor parish was consulted regarding this agreement.
Armstrong's plea of no contest to a felony 3 theft charge and effective plea of guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge contain several items worth noting - significantly, his acknowledgement of stealing money from Grace Church, an agreement that the sentence will include an order for him to pay restitution, and possible other penalties.
This is what we understand the plea bargain to be, as explained to us by the Special Prosecutor:
1. Armstrong pleaded no contest to a felony 3 theft charge, and the agreement recites in paragraph 1 that Armstrong "committed the offense of Theft-Series ($15,000 or More)."
2. A plea of no contest in a criminal action has the same legal effect as a guilty plea.
3. Armstrong acknowledges in paragraph 1 that the factual basis for this plea is "the factual basis contained in the Indictment."
4. Armstrong entered an Alford plea to a class one theft misdemeanor "to obtain benefit of a plea arrangement in which he is receiving a deferred sentence to a felony." In Colorado an Alford plea is considered to be the equivalent to a guilty plea.
5. The felony judgment and sentence will be deferred four years, during which Armstrong will be on probation.
6. The amount of restitution Armstrong will be ordered to pay will be determined by the court after a hearing in December or January.
7. If he does not comply with the terms of the deferred sentence, or commits any other illegal acts during the next four years, the deferral will be revoked.
8. It is up to the court as to whether Armstrong will be ordered to serve any time in prison.
9. Armstrong and his attorney agree in paragraph 7 of the plea agreement "that there are facts and a factual basis to support this plea... ."
10. Armstrong and his attorney recite in paragraph 9 of the plea agreement "that the decision to enter this guilty plea was made after full and careful thought... ."
11. By not contesting the felony theft charge, Armstrong acknowledges the existence of the elements of the crime of Theft-Series ($15,000 or more) including that Armstrong "knowingly (a) obtained or exercised control over (b) things of value (c) twice or more in a period of six months (d) which was the property of another person (e) without authorization or by threat or deception, and (f) with intent to permanently deprive the other person of the use or benefits of the thing of value... ."
I hope this helps clarify the matter, particularly since Armstrong's statements wholly omitted any reference to the felony theft charge and his plea of no contest.
Lawrence R. Hitt II
Chancellor of Colorado