The Grand Junction Bombings
In April 1989 a pipe bomb was discovered in the parking lot of La Court Motor Lodge in Grand Junction Denver Colorado. The bomb was disarmed without injury.
Two years later, within a three month period of each other, three more bombs exploded in the Grand Junction area.
On Valentine's day 1991, Dennis Lamb was leaving a banquet at 9 am. He was in the parking lot of Two Rivers and all of a sudden there was an explosion. Dennis was hit in the leg by shrapnel but survived, he said he thought he had been shot.
On Tuesday, March 5th, Maria Gonzalez wasn’t feeling well and her mother let her stay home from school. Maria and her brother, Gabe Medina had gone out to his van in the driveway of the home, he tried to start it but it would start so he got out of the car and noticed that some wires weren’t connected. They connected the wires, got back into the car and a moment later the bomb exploded, it had been hidden in the wheel well.
Gabe and their mother Mary escaped injury from the blast, however, Dolores was not so lucky. She was killed by shrapnel that had gone through her body. Her mother was traumatized, too scared to leave the house but also too scared to stay home alone. She wanted answers, what had happened to her daughter and who was responsible.
Investigators were trying to figure out what connected these two victims, why were they the target of this horrific act.
The components of the bomb were not rare and could be purchased basically anywhere. There was a 4-6 inch galvanized pipe with two end caps. The bombs could be set off in many different ways, fuses, timing devices or triggered by movement.
On Thursday, June 6th at around 10:3opm Henry Preston Rubel, his wide Suzanne Rubel and his brother Clyde Ruble were getting back in their car after having dinner at Feed Lot Restaurant and Lounge. As they were driving Suzanne noticed something on the road, a silver cylinder. She thought it was one of those tubes used in bank drive-throughs. Henry got out of the truck and picked up the object. Immediately when he picked it up the bomb exploded and Henry was killed on the spot, leaving his body mangled.
Up until this point, investigators felt that the victims were connected, however now they felt this might not be the case and that the victims might be random.
On June 8th, 1991 police believed the bombings to have been done by a random bomber or bombers. The head investigator at the time said: “the reason we’re providing more information on this bombing than we have in the past is that we are now concerned that an individual or group of individuals is placing these things randomly, killing whoever is foolishly picking them up.”
I think now we are much more conscious of random bags or things laying around but think about the time, it was a small town, 9/11 hasn't happened yet, there was a different sense of comfort and safety.
Dennis Lamb said in a statement that he believed the bombings were random, he said “I don’t think there's any connection among the three, but I know I’m very lucky. I look back and realize it could have been much worse." He said that although he doesn't live in fear of what happened, he did feel unsettled that someone was doing this.
Another investigator said something a bit different though, he said that “there's probably some motivation. If it appears random now, the motivation’s just not known.” Which I think is a very wise point.
After Henry’s death, the police department encouraged the community to contact them if they saw anything suspicious or unusual. They didn’t know yet how the perp was hiding or placing the bombs, the only connection they saw was that they were always in the vicinity of cars. The police department issued a statement that said: “We certainly don't want to create paranoia or hysteria in the community, but we do want people to be aware that we apparently have a person or persons out there who have no regard for human life." The police department was particularly concerned about children and encouraged people to remind their children not to pick up any kind of package or item that was unknown to them.
7 ATF workers were sent to Grand Junction to investigate the three bombings and see if they can help find the perp. They ended up gathering a list of 30 suspects mostly people that were known to police and known to have worked with explosives which wasn’t really rare in a mining town.
In early July the police department got a hit, an employee of the Readmor Bookstore called saying that a man had come in asking her to order a book called The Anarchists Cookbook which basically contained instructions on how to make a bomb.. The clerk refused to order the book and when the man left they called 911.
James (Jimmie) Genrich then became the primary suspect for the bombings.
Supposedly his former employer reported some unusual behavior and it was discovered James had been near the area of an explosion only hours after it occurred. James had a history of mental health issues, specifically around thinking he was ugly and wanting a girlfriend, there was a lot of anger towards woman and he attempted suicide twice. After the second attempt, he was committed and began to see a therapist.
During the investigation, ATF agents had two conversations with James. In both cases, he voluntarily agreed to speak with them and invited them to his apartment. In one article though I found that he had not invited them into the apartment, the ATF agents had illegally forced their way in.
He told the agents that he was aware of the bombings, that he had even heard the one that had exploded at Feedlot Restaurant because it was located close to his home, within a few blocks. He claimed that he had never purchased the Anarchist Cookbook but he was familiar with it as he had worked at a bookstore that carried it.
He also mentioned that in 1989 when the first bomb exploded, he was living in Phoenix Arizona, nowhere near Grand Junction - this is confirmed.
Upon the second conversation, James gave the agents permission to search his home.
They found two electrical fuses and a handwritten note that “expressed anger, frustration, and threatening violence towards women” which James admitted he had written. It said things like: “I’ve asked everyone I know for help. I hope God forgives me for what I’m about to do …” and “If you won’t help me I’ll have to kill some poor innocent stranger.”
When they discovered this note they were able to obtain a formal search warrant and did a thorough search of the home. They found another note threatening to kill unspecific people as well as an electrical fuse, needle nose pliers with wire cutters, metal wires, a soldering iron, and many other tools. They did not find gunpowder, explosives, mercury switches, bombmaking instructions, any diagrams for bombs or prototypes.
During the investigation, James agreed to speak to one of the agents. He admitted he had attempted to order the Anarchists Cookbook but only in an attempt to piss off the woman who worked there.
After these conversations, James began to be followed by ATF agents, and he knew.
He would try and have conversations with them to try and explain that he wasn’t the bomber. The relationship with these investigators was an interesting one, James was lonely so having someone to talk to was nice for him but they didn't treat him well.
He was once beaten up by locals and instead of helping him they just watched which left James very confused. Another time he went to visit his brothers grave and the agents told him to just kill himself so they could go home, which is horrible. James' brother died when he was young.
His tools were taken and tested and an agent tried to find where the pipe caps had been purchased. After visiting 25 locations with no luck, he finally found the store. It was five blocks from James' home. The employees mentioned that they remember James coming by the store and wandering the isles where pipes, ammunition, and guns were located.
Upon further discovery they could find no proof that James was in the store, what’s more, they weren't able to find any trace of gunpowder or any explosive residue or fingerprints on any of James’s belongings that had been seized.
Investigators tried to get a confession out of James so they put wires on his mother and stepfather but the only thing he said when he was confronted was that he was disappointed that he was capable of doing something like this.
James never did confess but he did once say “I’m not the bomber but I should be a rapist”
James was still however arrested and went to trial for two counts of murder and related felonies.
One major piece of the case was matching tool marks on the bomb with James tools. John O’Neil had testified in about 456 cases at the time of James' trial. He did not have any advanced degrees in tool mark analysis he was qualified based on his on the job training and years he had worked with the ATF.
During the trial, he stated that he had identified three tools that belonged to James, to the exclusion of any other tool that was used in the creation of the bombs.
They were able to use the unexploded bomb from 1989 and I believe the one from the Lamb explosion to make this comparison. He basically said that all tools have unique marks and make unique marks on anything that they come in contact with. He also said that out of the 10,000 bombs he had seen in his career, the four bombs in question were unlike any he had ever seen and were, in his opinion, made by the same person.
He also did state that he had absolutely no background in “statistical theory, inferential statistics, mathematical statistics, probability theory, experiment design, sampling methods, sampling techniques, quality control, or bias in experiment design. ” People v. Genrich, Court of Appeals No. 16CA0651, 14 (Colo. App. 2019)
O’Neil's evidence was shown as a video and was one of the first of its kind, he used light in different angles to match the marks.
Basically the main points of the case were:
• all four bombs were identically constructed;
• three specific tools — [Genrich's] needle-nose wire cutters, his wire strippers with the chip in the blade, and his yellow-handled pliers — were used to build the bombs; and
• Genrich was the only person who had possession of or access to those tools; he never loaned them to anyone People v. Genrich, Court of Appeals No. 16CA0651, 15 (Colo. App. 2019)
James Genrich was convicted of “ two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of use of an explosive or incendiary device in the commission of a felony, and one count of third-degree assault.” People v. Genrich, Court of Appeals No. 16CA0651, 16 (Colo. App. 2019).
In 1993 James was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He immediately appealed his conviction but was immediately shot down, claiming that tool mark evidence was widely accepted in the field and therefore did not constitute a retrial.
In recent years, however, the perceptions of analysis pattern matching like tool marks, bite marks, hairs, tire tracks, etc have started to be called into question. In 2009 a NAS (National Academy of Sciences) report was published saying that pattern matching was quote “barely science at all”.
One study that was conducted by the National Registry of exonerations I believe stated that 34% of wrongful convictions were due to faulty forensics.
Another study says that out of capital cases, one in 25 is a wrongful conviction, which is insanely high.
All this to say that James has always claimed he is innocent in these crimes and is actively trying to overturn his conviction. He is now 56 and has been in jail for 26 years.
The Innocence Project is currently working on his appeals to one day have James walk free
O’Neils “science” had no protocol, no one saying that in order for the tools to be a “match” they had to have a specific amount of matching points in comparison.
O’Neil also didn’t submit his testing into evidence and was therefore held in contempt of the court. When he finally did present his evidence to the defenses scientific experts he placed blue dots on each of the marks he found to match with the bomb, basically creating a bias for these scientists. They concluded that only one tool matched with the bomb, not three.
FYI he threw away his test cuts that didn't match the tool marks.
This obviously brings into question the validity of a lot of these pattern match techniques. There's one big article I am referencing here called Forensic Science Put Jimmy Genrich in Prison for 24 Years. What if It Wasn’t Science? Which was published in 2018, they have some interesting stats, the head of the FBI said that their error rate for fingerprint examination was one in 11 million, turns out their error rate ranges from one in 680 to one in 24 which is crazy. In 2015 the DOJ said that hair comparison was flawed in 96% of cases. In one of the cases, the prosecutor said it was one in 10 million that the hairs belonged to anyone else, the hair later came back belonging to a dog.
The DOJ has known for years though that hair comparison means basically nothing they weren't pressured to admit it until the 1990s.
In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences performed the most sweeping independent survey of the state of forensic science to date. It was a bombshell. “Much forensic evidence—including, for example, bitemarks and firearm and tool mark identifications—is introduced in criminal trials without any meaningful scientific validation, determination of error rates, or reliability testing to explain the limits of the discipline”.
Another huge part of this case was the disturbing notes found in James' home, however, after his second suicide attempt, he started seeing a therapist who encouraged James to write his feelings down. He said when he was drunk and angry he would write these letters instead of going out and getting into trouble.
As of August 30th, 2019 a split decision had been made on whether or not James would get a new trial, and that is where his case sits right now. So his case is currently under investigation, what are your thoughts?
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