Thomas Biederman’s former wife took the witness stand Thursday and said she was absolutely convinced it was her ex-husband who tried to kill her by planting a homemade explosive device under the front seat of her car.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he did it,” Janie Riggs told jurors on the seventh day of her former husband’s trial in Boyd Circuit Court.
The former Janie Biederman, who now goes by her maiden name, acknowledged she had previously told investigators there was “absolutely no way” her then-spouse could have made an attempt on her life. But, she said that belief took a 180-degree turn “after I got away from Tom and could think for myself.”
Riggs was the final witness for the prosecution. Biederman’s attorney, Michael Curtis, then rested his case after calling only one witness, Biederman’s 18-year-old daughter, Jordan.
Biederman declined to testify, telling Judge George W. Davis III he had decided to follow his attorney’s advice to remain silent. Closing arguments in the case are scheduled to begin at 10:15 this morning, after which jurors will begin deliberating Biederman’s fate.
Biederman, 52, of Russell, is charged with attempted murder and use of a weapon of mass destruction in the July 28, 2011, bombing in the parking garage of the Ashland Skytower. He could get up to 40 years if convicted of both charges.
The explosion occurred after Riggs tapped the brake pedal of her 2007 Ford Mustang convertible. According to testimony, the bomb — which was constructed from PVC pipe, black powder and other common household items — was wired into the vehicle’s left brake light.
Prosecutors allege Biederman tried to kill his wife for financial gain and he stood to collect $430,000 on a pair of life insurance policies had she perished in the blast.
Under questioning by assistant Boyd Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Greer, Riggs told jurors her first thought after the blast was her car’s driver’s-side airbag had accidentally deployed. Her first instinct, she said, was to get out of the car immediately. She said she didn’t find out until later the explosion had been caused by a bomb, and she couldn’t imagine who would have wanted to hurt her because she didn’t have a single enemy.
“I’m a peacemaker. I avoid confrontation at all costs,” she said.
After the incident, Riggs said her husband “became totally obsessed” with trying to solve the case himself, even though she told him “on more than one occasion” he should back off and let the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents who’d been assigned to investigate the blast do their jobs.
Riggs said it didn’t take long for relations between her then-husband and ATF Agent Ron Sabotchick, the lead investigator in the case, to break down. She said she believed that was due in large measure to Biederman’s controlling nature.
“He (Biederman) is a control freak,” she said. “He wants to know everything about everything. This was something he couldn’t control and he couldn’t stand it.”
Riggs said Biederman also told her he’d hired a private investigator who had solved the case. But, she said she found that difficult to believe because the family didn’t have the money to pay for one.
Biederman also told ATF Agents Gary Smith and Rob Young he’d hired an investigator who was known only to him as “Santa Claus.” However, Smith, Young and Sabotchick all testified they were never able to substantiate that claim.
Riggs said she and Biederman married in 1989 and began to drift apart following the death of a daughter who was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect.
“He lived downstairs and I lived upstairs,” she said. “We very seldom did anything together. I wouldn’t call what we had a marriage.”
Riggs also said the family was facing foreclosure on its house and was behind on other bills because Thomas Biederman’s real estate appraisal business had fallen on hard times because of the housing market collapse. She said her biweekly paycheck from her job at Middough Consulting Inc. was the family’s only steady income.
At one point when her husband was making good money with his business, Riggs said she spent what he considered an excessive amount on clothing for the couple’s children — Jordan and her older brother, Ryan — along with other items the family had previously been unable to afford and Biederman seemingly never forgave her for that, bringing it up her in a caustic manner on numerous occasions.
Riggs said she suffered second- and third-degree burns on her arms and legs in the explosion. A later X-ray also revealed a hairline fracture in one of her feet, she said. Plus, she said she continued to suffer from lingering after-effects from the incident, including hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Riggs sobbed when Greer asked her how the incident had affected her children. She said relations between her and Jordan and Ryan had become “strained” because of them supporting their father.
“They’re not the same kids they were a year and a half ago,” she said. “They don’t have normal kids’ lives. This has ruined them. It’s not fair.”
Greer also questioned Riggs about the key fob remote control to her car, which he and ATF agents have said was a key piece of evidence in the case. Riggs told jurors she almost always used the remote to lock and unlock her vehicle, but it abruptly quit working the day before the blast. She said didn’t think much about it at the time and intended to stop by an auto parts store and pick up a new battery for the device, but never got around to it.
An examination of the device revealed someone had disabled it by removing the battery and placing it back in upside down. In his opening remarks, Greer told jurors Biederman tampered with the remote, which also caused the car’s lights to flash, to prevent his wife from setting off the bomb before she was inside the vehicle.
Biederman, described by his former wife and cold, distant and unemotional, stared at her disapassionately as she testified. However, later, as Jordan Biederman was exiting the courtroom after testifying, she smiled at her father and he dabbed at his eyes.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.