Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 26, 2012

Motive alleged at Biederman trial

Prosecutor says money was behind attempted car bombing

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — Thomas Biederman tried to kill his wife by rigging her car with explosive devices for financial gain, a prosecutor said Thursday.

In his opening remarks to jurors in Biederman’s trial on charges of attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction, Boyd Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Greer said Biederman stood to collect $430,000 from two different life insurance policies had his wife, Janie Biederman, been killed when her car exploded in the parking garage of the Ashland Skytower on July 28, 2011.

Also, Greer told the 10-woman, four-man jury the Biedermans were having major financial trouble, due in large part to Thomas Biederman’s real-estate apprasial business falling on hard times because of the housing market crash. The Biedermans were 12 months behind on their mortgage and facing foreclosure on their home on Division Street in downtown Russell, he said.

Additionally, Greer said, Thomas Biederman would complain to others about his wife’s spending habits and “how she was ruining his business.”

But defense attorney Michael Curtis said financial difficulties were nothing new for the Biedermans and that the couple had weathered hard times before. He also told jurors his client was a loving husband who had “been there emotionally” for his wife when her mother died several weeks before the bomb incident and a devoted father to the couple’s children, Ryan and Jordan.

Curtis also said authorities who investigated the bombing had zeroed in early on his client and had failed to pursue leads that might have led them to other suspects. For example, he said witness accounts of two men “loitering” in the parking garage near Janie Biederman’s 2007 Ford Mustang were never investigated.

“To this day, no one knows who those men were,” he said.

Also, two days before the blast, Janie Biederman received some cryptic text messages, Curtis said. The first read “I’ll be there to see you,” and it was quickly followed by another one reading “Wrong number,” he said.

Biederman, 52, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if he is convicted of both the charges. He was arrested in January following a joint investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Ashland Police Department and the Kentucky State Police.

According to Greer, investigators found the remnants of two explosive devices made from PVC pipe and black powder at the scene of the blast. BBs had also been placed in the pipes. The bombs were planted under the driver’s seat of Janie Biederman’s car and wired to the vehicle’s left brake light with telephone wire. The explosion occurred after Janie Biederman touched the car’s brake pedal, sending an electrical charge to the devices.

Further investigation revealed the key fob remote Janie Biederman normally used to lock and unlock her vehicle had been tampered with, Greer said.

“The battery was removed from the remote and placed back in upside-down in order to keep Janie from detonating the bomb without her in the car,” he said, explaining that in addition to locking and unlocking the doors, using the remote caused the vehicle’s lights to flash.

Greer said the remote was working fine the night before the explosion, but was “non-operational” the following day.

In addition to financial issues, Greer said the Biedermans had other problems in their marriage.

“They slept in separate places; they’d not been intimate in years,” he said.

Thomas Biederman slept in the basement, where the family computer was located, and a forensic examination of that computer revealed Internet searches for information on making pipe bombs and on detonators, Greer said.

Curtis, though, told jurors there were numerous facts in the case that pointed to someone other than his client as the bomber. Among them: Tool markings on the explosive remnants didn’t match any of the tools seized from a storage shed at the Biederman residence, and telephone wire taken from that same shed was a different type than was used on the bomb.

One of Thursday’s witnesses, Jeremy Nagle, an electrical engineer with the ATF, was questioned by Greer regarding his examination of Janie Biederman’s key fob remote. Nagle said when he took the device apart, the “positive” markings on the battery were “staring me right in the face,” the reverse of how the battery would have needed to have been placed in the remote for it to function.

Nagle said the remote worked fine after he removed the battery and replaced it correctly.

Another ATF witness, explosives specialist Mike Eggleston, testified the purpose of putting BBs in the bombs was to add shrapnel to them.

“It’s the anti-personnel effect,” he said.

Janie Biederman suffered only minor injuries in the explosion. Authorities said the fact her car was a convertible kept the blast from being contained in the passenger compartment, which likely spared her from death or more serious injury.

Lisa Regan, one of Janie Biederman former co-workers at Middough Consulting Inc., which is located in the Skytower, said Thursday that following the blast, Janie Biederman came back up to the firm’s offices. She was dazed, covered with soot, had burns on both arms and her shoes were missing, she said. She also testified Janie Biederman told her she thought the explosion had been caused by her car’s engine blowing up.

Regan described Janie Biederman as a “wonderful person” and a “good, conscientious and kind co-worker. Everyone loved her,” she said.

Testimony in the trial was scheduled to resume at 11 this morning. Judge George W. Davis III is presiding over the case.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.