A federal agent on Monday said it was unlikely the bomb that went off in Janie Biederman’s Ford Mustang on July 28, 2011, was planted in her vehicle the day the blast took place.
Gary Smith, an explosives specialist with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said it was more probable the bomb was placed in the vehicle and wired up in advance and the bomber made the final connection to arm it after Janie Biederman left it in the parking garage of the Ashland Skytower.
Smith, who is assigned to the ATF’s Lexington Field Office, was the only witness to take the stand on the fourth day of the trial of Janie Biederman’s husband, Thomas Biederman.
Jurors spent the bulk of the day watching and listening to a nearly four-hour videotaped interview with the defendant conducted by Smith and another AFT agent, Rob Young, in the Lexington Field Office in October of last year.
Thomas Biederman, 52, of Russell, is charged with attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction in connection with the bombing. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if he’s convicted of both charges.
Prior to the taped interview being played, Smith, under direct examination by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Greer, said based on his knowledge of explosive devices, there was an approximately one-week time window during which the bomb could have been planted. He said that was based in part on Biederman’s statement to agents that he and his wife had cleaned out the car about a week prior to the explosion.
Smith also said based on his experience with explosives, there were several things that told him the device wasn’t placed the day of the blast.
One, he said, was the fact the bomb — which was made from two pieces of PVC pipe filled with black powder and BBs and wired into the car’s left brake light — was secured beneath the driver’s seat with plastic zip ties. Smith said he believed that measure was taken to keep the tubes from rolling out from under the seat while that car was in motion.
Also, Smith said, the car’s wiring schematics were so complex that rigging up the device and testing the circuit would have required “several hours of unrestricted access” to the vehicle, something he said it was questionable whether the bomber would have had with the car in the parking garage.
Smith said it also appeared the bomber took pains to conceal the connection between the device and the brake light. A section of multi-strand telephone wire was used to make that connection. However, Smith said, only the black and green wires were used. The yellow and red ones were not, likely because they were brighter and would have been more noticeable, he said.
“So could someone just go into the Skytower parking garage and put this all together?” Greer asked.
“I know I could not do it,” Smith replied.
On other hand, if the device had been planted and the wiring done in advance, the bomb could have been armed “in a matter of seconds,” he said.
During cross-examination, Biederman’s attorney, Michael Curtis, tried to shake Smith from his contention the bomb couldn’t have been planted and armed in a relatively short amount of time.
“You’re just speculating here, aren’t you?” he said.
“I am quite certain a layperson would have had great difficulty finding the correct circuit” to wire the device to, Smith replied.
According to Smith, only one of the PVC pipes actually detonated because it was the only one that had an igniter in it. The other pipe was blown apart by the blast and the gunpowder in it burned off, he said.
Also, the fact the bomber placed BBs in the pipes in an apparent attempt to add shrapnel to the device actually helped deaden the force of the blast, Smith said. Had the metal pellets been placed on the outside of the tubes with tape or some other means, the likelihood of Janie Biederman being more seriously injured or killed would’ve increased greatly, he said.
Smith also told jurors the interview he and Young did with Biederman took place after he was asked to see if he could “open the lines of communication” with the defendant after he quit talking to Ron Sabotchick, former resident agent at the Ashland ATF office and the lead investigator in the case.
“It was my understanding Tom Biederman and Agent Sabotchick were having some personality conflicts,” he said.
During the interview, Biederman’s tone alternates between friendly and bellicose, and he expresses his contempt for Sabotchick numerous times.
“I’ll be honest with you, I hate Ron’s guts,” he says at one point. “We have zero confidence in him. Zero trust.”
Biederman told the agents the main reason the relationship between him and Sabotchick fell apart was that Sabotchick was less than forthcoming about sharing details of the bombing investigation and the progress he was making on it.
Asked by the agents who he suspected of planting the bomb, Biederman named a neighbor he’d had past issues with, a man whom he said he’d reported for Social Security Disability fraud and a woman he referred to as “Crazy Christie,” whom he said wanted to have an affair with him, but he turned her down.
Biederman also told the agents that prior to the bombing, his father-in-law was being scammed by some Jamaicans who were “tied into the Columbian cartel” and that he started receiving death threats after they tried to scam him, too, but he refused to send them any money.
Smith said he spoke to Biederman several more times after the initial interview, but their relationship eventually soured for essentially the same reason the one between Biederman and Sabotchick did.
“He (Biederman) became increasingly frustrated because we would not give him specific investigatory and forensic details,” he said. “When you don’t give him what he wants, he becomes angry and argumentative.”
The trial was scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today with Curtis continuing his cross-examination of Smith.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.