A Fourth Judicial District grand jury Wednesday indicted the Rev. Donald Armstrong on 20 felony counts of theft charges, concluding a months-long investigation by the Colorado Springs Police and the Pueblo District Attorney's Office into Armstrong's financial conduct while rector of Grace Church & St. Stephen's parish.Fr. Armstrong is charged with felonies including embezzlement, in the amount of $392,000.
Armstrong, who ministers to about 600 people a week, surrendered to police Thursday and was jailed at the Criminal Justice Center until posting a $20,000 bond later in the day.
If convicted on all 20 felony counts, Armstrong, 60, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Each count comes with a possible prison sentence of 4 to 12 years, said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. Fines against Armstrong could mount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The D.A.'s office did not provide a breakdown of the 20 counts. But in the search warrant executed by police in November on Grace Church, Colorado Springs Police Det. Michael Flynn sought evidence suggesting Armstrong had funneled money from the church to pay for his two children's college education.
Fr. Armstrong is quoted in the article as saying, "I will, after years of unbridled false accusations, have my day in court, so this is a good step in that direction." Well, let's be frank: Fr. Armstrong is mistaken on that point. An acquittal can come a very long time indeed after an indictment, defending a complex criminal case through verdict is often ruinously expensive, and, worst of all, an acquittal is not vindication, but a finding that the prosecution did not prove every element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, no, an indictment is never good news.
The indictment also should put paid to the notion that Fr. Armstrong is a martyr to a tyrannical Episcopal Church, bruited about by his more zealous defenders. At a minimum, unless the Pueblo County District Attorney's office is incredibly remiss, some significant evidence of irregularities must have been unearthed in the two year investigation.
That said, an indictment is, as I used to remind courts on a regular basis in my criminal defense days, a mere allegation. Even the existence of irregularities does not translate necessarily to criminal wrongdoing. Fr. Armstrong is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial.
And, from across the gulf of the internal conflict that is rending our church, prayers--whatever the facts ultimately prove to be.