SALT LAKE CITY — An appeals court handed down a decision Friday standing behind the conviction of an Illinois man who placed a pipe bomb in the Salt Lake City Public Library in 2006.
Thomas James Zajac, 63, was convicted of the bombing in U.S. District Court in 2010. His appeal argued that he received an ineffective legal defense, a claim that the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected Friday.
Zajac planted a homemade pipe bomb on the third floor of the Salt Lake City Library on Sept. 15, 2006, causing an explosion that damaged a window and prompted the evacuation of 400 people. Nobody was injured in the blast.
Zajac was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison in 2011.
The appeals court was not convinced by Zajac's claims that he had received poor defense counsel that was deficient enough to ultimately prejudice the jury in his case.
"Zajac received a fair trial and was fairly convicted. The government presented a solid case and the jurors accepted it," the court wrote in its decision.
Though federal prosecutors could have made their case even stronger, they nonetheless presented "overwhelming evidence" that Zajac was responsible for the bombing, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
"We will not assume that successful objections by the defense would have weakened otherwise strong evidence," the decision stated.
Zajac's appeal also stated that his stepson would have been identified by some witnesses, if those witnesses had been used by the defense, as potentially being responsible for the bomb. The appeals court was not swayed by that claim, noting that Zajac's counsel testified during the case that no reason had been found to believe that man could be culpable.
"We ... doubt that the defense's decisions about these witnesses and strategies were errors, let alone prejudicial ones," the decision stated.
The defense argued during the case that Zajac's son, rather, could have planted the bomb and framed his father.
"Obviously, the jury did not believe this account," the appeals court wrote.
Zajac maintained his innocence at his sentencing hearing, telling U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, "I didn't have anything to do with placing that thing in the library."
During Zajac's trial, federal prosecutors described his fury with Salt Lake police because of their arrest of his son in a DUI case in 2004. Motivated by revenge, prosecutors said, he drove to Utah from Illinois specifically to plant the bomb in the library.
Zajac is incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Chicago.