May 31, 2008
Alleged killer witness in murder case
JASON ARMSTRONG FACES MURDER CHARGES FOR SLAYING OF CO-WORKER ON CAMPING TRIP
By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN, Staff Writer
Adams County authorities have identified 34-year-old Jason R. Armstrong as the man charged last week with stabbing a co-worker up to 100 times and then setting his lifeless body on fire during an overnight camping trip near his home. Armstrong is a groundskeeper at a ski resort in Adams County.
But the accused was known by a different name in the 1990s when he lived near Lenape and was at the center of a bizarre and controversial homicide case that played itself out in the Chester County Courthouse.
Reuben Armstrong was 18 years old when he testified as the star witness in the murder trial of Chad Franciscus. Franciscus allegedly killed a mild-mannered, friendly teenager from Parkesburg, whom he accosted as the youth walked to his home along railroad tracks in Pomeroy.
The case included tales of satanic rituals and vampire obsession, of drug use and the occult, of local youths hanging out in cemeteries and showing off dead bodies, and of mystery witnesses and jail-house snitches. It began in September 1991 with the disappearance of 16-year-old Michael Devine and the arrest of 17-year-old Franciscus during classes at Coatesville Area High School, and ended almost eight years later when Franciscus entered a plea to third-degree murder.
Throughout the case, those who supported Franciscus — including friends, family and his attorneys — believed that police and the prosecution had been duped into blaming him, and that the real killer had gone free. The man they said was responsible was Jason Rueben Armstrong, the charismatic and physically powerful leader of a clique of troubled youths and dubbed “King of the Goths.”
“My defense was putting the focus on Reuben Armstrong, and that he committed this murder,” defense attorney Vincent DiFabio said in 1999, a few days after Franciscus, who he represented, entered the plea that saw him sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison.
Today, Armstrong, of Fairfield in Adams County, is charged with criminal homicide, arson, abuse of a corpse and related offenses after allegedly stabbing and slashing 19-year-old Andrew S. Bosley of Orrtanna, a former co-worker at the Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley. Armstrong told police Bosley pulled a knife on him while camping at a wooded site about 500 yards off a rural road near Armstrong’s home.
According to Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner, Bosley suffered multiple stab wounds and severe burns to his face. Bosley’s ear was severed and his throat was slashed, police said.
At the time of the homicide, Armstrong was a full-time groundskeeper at Liberty Mountain, a position he has held for three years, while Bosley had quit his job as a tubing operator in February after six weeks of work, according to the resort’s marketing coordinator, Anne Weimer.
Weimer said Armstrong was on a regularly scheduled vacation this week. Although she did not know him personally, Weimer called Armstrong a “good, reliable employee” who was never any trouble at work.
Armstrong’s wife, Wendy Armstrong, dropped the two men off at a wooded site around 7 p.m. Tuesday to go camping, court documents state. Police allege Bosley was stabbed and set on fire early Wednesday morning.
Armstrong was covered in blood when he returned home about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the documents. He told his wife Bosley had attacked him with a knife and he had killed Bosley, the documents state. An argument ensued and Wendy Armstrong called 911, the documents say.
Armstrong left the house in a Honda sedan and was heading to get beer when he crashed into a bridge in the 5700 block of Fairfield Road, according to court documents. He allegedly drove back home after the crash.
While being driven to a hospital for treatment for injuries suffered in the crash, Armstrong allegedly told ambulance personnel he “must have killed that man,” according to the documents.
When the ambulance workers asked Armstrong what he meant, he said, “I must have said something to make him mad or something. He pulled out his knife and I pulled out mine. I’m afraid he must be dead.”
On Oct. 1, 1991, Armstrong was hanging out with his friend Chad Franciscus and two other friends of the group that hung out together, talking about witchcraft, vampires and the occult. “A lot of us hang out in cemeteries. They are beautiful places,” one girl, an art student at Coatesville, testified later.
In his later statements to police and in his trial testimony, Armstrong said he and Franciscus were doing drugs in a Pomeroy park when Franciscus unexpectedly said, “Come here, I want to show you something.”
He led Armstrong to some nearby Amtrak railroad tracks, where Devine’s body lay underneath some brush, covered with flies. Franciscus, Armstrong said, proceeded to tell him in detail how he had killed the 16-year-old a few days before.
“He told me he went out there looking for someone to kill,” Armstrong said at a preliminary hearing in the case. “He was extremely happy. He was grinning from ear to ear.”
Franciscus said he approached Devine, whom he did not know, and asked him for a light. When Devine turned away, Franciscus attacked him from behind, stabbing him in the neck. “He had him face down on the ground,”Armstrong testified. “He stabbed him in the back of the neck,” actually breaking the blade of the knife off in Devine’s throat.
Armstrong said the two left the scene, but he later became upset over the incident and wrote an anonymous letter to police, telling them about a “boy on the tracks,” and saying “the killer is Chad Franciscus.”
Franciscus was tried the next year. Before the trial, Judge Thomas Gavin ruled that the prosecution would not be able to introduce evidence taken from Franciscus’s bedroom, showing his fascination with black magic, the occult and vampires. Franciscus had, one witness testified, at one time joked abut being a vampire himself.
Gavin also refused to allow the defense to present testimony from friends of Armstrong, who said Armstrong talked about committing other murders, the details of which were strikingly similar to Devine’s death, in their attempt to cast Armstrong as the killer.
Although he was set to be the star witness in the case against Franciscus, Armstrong ran afoul of authorities a few weeks before the start of the trial, when he was charged with resisting arrest and public drunkenness outside a Lenape restaurant.
The prosecutor in the case, Robert Miller, now chief deputy of the Chester County District Attoney’s office, based the bulk of his case on Armstrong’s tale about following Franciscus to the body. But he also offered other testimony that corroborated Armstrong, and physical evidence, including a broken stem from Franciscus’ glasses found at the scene, that tied Franciscus to the murder.
Franciscus’s trial attorneys (one of whom, former assistant public defender Juan Sanchez, is now a federal judge in Philadelphia), peppered Armstrong on cross-examination with why he had not told police about the crime immediately after Franciscus’s confession, and why he was seen partying with Franciscus later even though he claimed to be afraid for his own safety. They also presented witnesses who testified that within hours of the supposed encounter with Devine’s body, Armstrong was showing friends how he could “play the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on his armpits.”
But it took just four hours of deliberations for the jury to find Franciscus guilty of first-degree murder. Those in the courtroom who supported Franciscus were stunned; his attorneys were speechless.
He was sentenced to life in prison, a sentence that was later overturned because of the use by the prosecution of a jail-house informant who an appeals court ruled was improperly used. As the two sides prepared to try the case again in 1999 — again with Armstrong cast as the chief witness aganst Franciscus — the defense accepted the prosecution’s offer of an “Alford Plea” to third-degree murder, which sentenced him to prison for Devine’s death but allowed him to escape accepting responsibility.
Franciscus is housed at the State Correctional Institution in Smithfield.
Although he passed the minimum date of his 10- to 20-year sentence a year ago, he has consistently been refused parole and must subject himself to a psychiatric and psychological evaluation at his own expense before going before the state parole board, those with knowledge of the case say.
He is scheduled to reach the maximum date of his prison term in 2010.
Armstrong is jailed at Adams County prison and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing June 3.
Information for this story was provided by the Hanover Evening Sun as well as reporters Katharine Harmon and Heather Faulhefer.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, send an e-mail to mrellahan@dailyloc