Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 15, 2012

Biederman sentenced 40 years

Judge upholds jury recommendation

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — Thomas Biederman was formally sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday for attempting to kill his then-wife by booby-trapping her Ford Mustang convertible with a pipe bomb.

Boyd Circuit Judge George W. Davis III pronounced sentence on Biederman following a brief hearing in his courtroom. In so doing, he upheld the sentencing recommendation of the jury that last month convicted Biederman of attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction.

The jury gave Biederman the maximum sentence of 20 years on each charge and recommended the terms run consecutively.

Biederman, 52, of Russell, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, was given the opportunity by Davis to make a statement, but chose not to, as did his attorney Michael Curtis. Biederman had no visible reaction when the sentence was pronounced.

Biederman’s former wife, Janie Riggs, the target of the bombing, and his 18-year-old daughter, Jordan Biederman, both were in the courtroom for the sentencing. Both left quickly after the hearing and both declined to speak to the media. Biederman’s son, Ryan Biederman, 20, was not present. The Biederman children both supported their father during the trial and Jordan Biederman testified as a defense witness.

In sentencing Biederman, Davis said he had considered alternative sentencings, including probation, as is required by law, but determined they would depreciate the seriousness of the crimes. He also said that because Riggs suffered serious physical injuries as a result of his misdeeds, Biederman would be classified as a violent offender. That means he will have to serve at least 20 years before he can be considered for parole.

Against his attorney’s advice, Biederman rejected a plea bargain from the Boyd Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office under which he would have agreed to a 10-year sentence with a violent-offender specification and chose to take his chances at trial. Under the plea deal, he could have possibly been released from prison in about 7 1⁄2 years.

Biederman was convicted Nov. 2 of the July 28, 2011, bombing, which occurred in the parking garage of the Ashland Skytower. The bomb, which was constructed from PVC pipe, black powder and other common household items, was placed under the driver’s seat of Riggs’ car and held in place with plastic zip ties. The device was wired to the car’s left brake light and went off after Riggs touched the car’s brake pedal.

Riggs suffered burns to the backs of her legs and other injuries in the blast. During the trial, she testified she initially believed her husband innocent, but her thinking changed after she left him and was away from his dominant, controlling influence. She also said she continues to suffer from lingering problems caused by the explosion, including hearing loss and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Greer, the lead prosecutor in the case, told jurors Riggs likely would have died in the blast had her car not been a convertible, which meant the force of the blast went through the roof, rather than being contained in the passenger compartment. He also noted the bomb consisted of two PVC tubes, but only one of them had a detonator, so it was the only one that exploded. The force of the blast caused the other tube to rupture and the powder to burn off.

Greer maintained Biederman tried to kill his wife for financial gain. He said he stood to collect $430,000 from a pair of life insurance policies had she perished in the explosion. Also, according to testimony, Biederman’s home appraisal business was struggling in the wake of the housing market collapse and the family was facing foreclosure.

Following the trial, Curtis said he believed Riggs’ key fob remote was the most damning piece of evidence against his client. An examination of the device, which locked and unlocked the doors of Riggs’ vehicle and also caused the car’s lights to flash when one of its buttons was pressed, showed someone had removed the battery from it and placed it back in the device upside down.

Greer maintained the purpose of disabling the remote was to ensure the bomb wouldn’t detonate until Riggs was in the car. He also told jurors Biederman was the only person who had access to the device to tamper with it.

Biederman attempted to point investigators in numerous directions following the blast, saying he believed it could have been the work of Jamaicans who were scamming his then-father-in-law out of money, a woman whose advances he had spurned, an attorney in a lawsuit he was planning or a neighbor he’d reported for Social Security Disabilities fraud. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agent Ron Sabotchick, the lead investigator in the case, said all those suspects were checked out and ultimately cleared of any involvement.

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