Man convicted of planting Fremont bombs

The Associated Press
Saturday June 02, 2001

HAYWARD — An unemployed crime lab technician has been found guilty on all 11 counts, including attempted murder, for planting bombs under the homes of Fremont’s police chief and other city officials. 

The verdict, reached Thursday but read in Alameda County Superior Court early Friday, followed a week of deliberations and months of testimony in the case. 

Rodney Blach, 54, has said federally trained agents carried out the six bombings, and that he was being framed. 

His lawyer, William Linehan, argued the case was largely circumstantial, relying only on Blach’s motive and opportunity. He said he was disappointed with the verdict and would ask for a new trial. 

The six bombs were planted during a 48-hour period in March 1998. 

The first one ripped a 10-foot hole in the roof of police Chief Craig Steckler’s home and set the front porch on fire. The same afternoon, City Councilman Bob Wasserman, Steckler’s predecessor as police chief, found an explosive in a brown paper bag on his front walk. Authorities defused that bomb. 

Two pipe bombs damaged newly constructed homes and another explosive went off at a water tank. Police detonated a sixth bomb. 

No one was injured. 

Blach, who was a chemical engineer with the Chicago Police Department crime lab from 1974 to 1979, taunted investigators and seemed to savor his role as a suspect during the 18-month investigation. 

He said he planted keys in his San Diego home and taped notes with clues beneath his desk and a shaving cream can to see if investigators could find them. He lived in the Fremont neighborhood where he planted the bombs, but moved to San Diego after he became a suspect. 

Blach, who had no prior criminal record, has been described by acquaintances as a conspiracy theorist. According to grand jury testimony, he planted a pair of time-delayed pipe bombs under a Fremont home because he thought it was going to be bought by a prominent family he considered to be the “Afghan Mafia.” 

The less potent explosives at the homes of the police chief and city councilman were diversions, according to court records. 

Prosecutors said Blach had a long-standing grudge against Fremont resident Terry Lee Ritter, 48, and his wife, Shamim Siddiq Ritter, 42, a real-estate loan agent. He believed they had purchased the $1.4 million-plus Corte del Sol home. 

However, the family neither bought the house nor moved in. When the bombs did detonate in March 1998, a girl from a different family that had purchased the residence was shaken but not injured. Investigators believe Blach could face life in prison.