A Boyd Circuit Court jury on Friday found Thomas Biederman guilty of attempting to kill his former wife by booby-trapping her car with a pipe bomb and recommended he serve 40 years in prison for the crime.
The eight-woman, four-man panel deliberated about two hours before finding Biederman guilty of attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction.
It then took the same jury about 20 minutes to return a recommendation that Biederman be given the maximum penalty for those crimes — 20 years on each count, with the sentences to be served consecutively.
Biederman, 52, of Russell, showed no emotion when Judge George W. Davis III read the verdict. However, a few minutes later, when Davis ordered him to stand for the jury, Biederman collapsed and had to be helped from the courtroom by bailiffs. He did not return to the courtroom to hear the sentence.
“He’s not physically or mentally able to be here,” said his attorney, Michael Curtis.
Curtis later said his client was in shock and the weight of the verdict had hit him “like a sledgehammer. But is he OK? Yes.”
Biederman’s ex-wife, Janie Riggs, the target of the July 28, 2011, bombing, declined comment.
Under state sentencing guidelines, Biederman will have to serve at least 20 years in prison before he can be considered for parole. He will receive credit for the nearly 11 months he has already spent in custody.
Curtis and Boyd Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Greer both said that prior to the trial, Biederman was offered a plea bargain under which he would have agreed to a 10-year sentence with a violent offender specification. Under that arrangement, he would have been parole-eligible in about 7 1⁄2 years. Curtis said he recommended to his client that he take the deal, but Biederman refused.
“We could’ve kept the children out of it if he’d done that,” he said.
Biederman’s son, Ryan, 20, and daughter, Jordan, 18, both supported the father. Jordan testified as a witness for the defense. Both were in the courtroom when the verdict and sentence. Jordan showed little reaction, but Ryan sat slumped over, his eyes and face red from crying.
Curtis said he believed Riggs’ key fob remote was the key piece of evidence that convicted his client. An examination of the device, which locked and unlocked the doors of Riggs’ 2007 Ford Mustang convertible 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 — which was wired into the car’s left brake light — 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.
Jordan Biederman told investigators he’d driven the Mustang two days prior to the bombing and the remote was working fine. Riggs testified the device abruptly quit working the day before the blast, which occurred in the parking garage of the Ashland Skytower as Riggs was leaving her job at Middough Consulting Inc., which is located on the 10th floor of the Skytower.
Greer agreed the remote was a highly incriminating bit of evidence. He also said the evidence turned up by Ashland Police Department Detective Gavin Patrick that Biederman had used the family computer to search for bomb-making information was important to the case.
“We just feel like justice was served here today, and I’d like to thank all the agencies that were involved in the investigation,” he said. “They did an awesome job.”
Greer also praised Riggs’ “strong, confident” performance on the witness stand and said his heart went out to her and to the Biederman children.
Riggs told jurors on Thursday that 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 blast, including hearing loss and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
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 went off after Riggs touched the car’s brake pedal.
Greer 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 continued 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.
The investigation that led to Biederman’s conviction was a joint effort that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the APD, the Kentucky State Police and the Russell Police Department.
“It was a long, tedious investigation, but, as a result of it, a violent criminal who committed a heinous crime against his wife and family will be removed from the streets,” ATF spokesman George Huffman said.
Huffman also praised the work of the ATF agents involved in the case — Ron Sabotchick, the lead investigator, and explosives specialists Gary Smith and Rob Young from the Lexington Field Office, who gathered evidence at the blast scene and conducted interviews with Biederman after he cut off communications with Sabotchick.
APD Chief Rob Ratliff said the bombing investigation was like no other case the department had ever worked. But, he said the officers and detectives involved in it rose to the challenge.
“A lot of time and effort went into (the investigation),” he said.
Davis scheduled Biederman’s final sentencing for 11 a.m. Dec. 7.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.