On the evening of last Dec. 29, Ed Kiley was in the backyard of his rented home in the Hillside neighborhood, making what was, by all accounts, a very bad decision.
Bang! The first explosion was loud enough to scare the dickens out of neighbor Melinda Rossman, who phoned the police.
Less than 10 minutes later, at 4:53 p.m., Police Sgt. Michael Spitzmiller pulled up next to Kiley's home, only to hear another explosion. Boom!
More police followed. As they stormed the area, Kiley was taken into custody. A search warrant was obtained. Neighbors were evacuated. The feds were called in.
Over the next two days, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would lead the upturning of Kiley's home. Agents found explosives, materials to make explosives, an antique gun, and an inert grenade.
X-rays were made of the explosives. Tests run on various powders. Photos snapped and videos recorded. Explosive materials packed in static-proof bags and hauled out in specially designed trucks. Most of these eventually would be covered with a great deal more explosives, courtesy of bomb experts, and detonated outside the city.
It was, in other words, an absolute shitstorm.
Police reports show Kiley cooperated with police during the search, leading them to various stores of explosives and explaining what they were. He says he wanted to keep officers safe, and show he had nothing to hide. But slowly, it was dawning on the self-employed handyman just how much trouble he was really in. The cops were asking him if he'd rigged his doorbell or his car's radar detector to explode.
"I was like, 'Guys, you're reading way too much into this,'" Kiley remembers telling the police. "I was just making fireworks."
Kiley, 57, is the son of a Connecticut fire chief/fire marshal. From age 15, he spent teenage summers working at a family friend's dairy farm, where he used dynamite to clear rocks and debris off the fields.
At 18, he moved to Colorado. A year later, Kiley joined the Army. He was around explosives again when his Chinook helicopter unit trained and performed special missions. After serving his four years, he maintained a "fascination" with fireworks.
"It was common for me to have that knowledge [decades ago]," Kiley notes. "... You used to be able to buy hammerheads and M80s in the store — they were legal then."
Kiley encountered some bumps after his military experience. He was married and divorced. He moved back to Connecticut. He worked in robotics for a long stretch, but dealt with a substance-abuse issue that led to an armed robbery conviction for which he spent 11 years in prison. Kiley continued to have issues, including two DUIs.
In 2004, he returned to Colorado, determined to straighten out his life, and started his own handyman business.
Kiley's a popular guy in his neighborhood, where it's long been common knowledge that he makes his own fireworks for holidays. Usually, Kiley sets them off at a friend's property in the country, but he's done small displays for the neighbors' kids.
On the day he was arrested, he says, he was testing some of his larger, louder fireworks in preparation for New Year's Eve.
Neighbors contacted for this story say they trust Kiley with fireworks, since he's been making them for years and was educated on explosives in the military.
Neighbor Jim Maestas, who's lived in his home 15 years, says of Kiley, "He's a really good guy; he's always watched out for the neighborhood, and at one point — I can't remember how many years ago — he used to be our Neighborhood Watch captain."
Asked if the neighborhood would rally behind Kiley in the courtroom, another neighbor, Terry Fitzgerald says, "You better believe it."
Several other neighbors — including Rossman, who called the cops after hearing Kiley's "booms"— have written letters to Judge Larry Schwartz, testifying to Kiley's good character. Some recalled him rescuing a deaf and blind baby who had crawled into the street on a cold winter evening, and returning the tiny runaway to his parents. Others wrote that Kiley was a kind eccentric, always willing to help someone in need.
One letter, from neighbor Theresa Dawson, who once lived with Kiley, notes, "... Ed does a lot of work for the senior community and if it wasn't for his generosity many of them would not be able to afford to have the work done ... I admit Ed has some strange interests, but it is who he is. He loves playing with explosives and electronics. When I say explosives, I don't mean anything that would destroy anything, I mean things that go BOOM."
Irrelevance of intent
According to Police Lt. Scott Whittington, more than 100 items of evidence were collected from Kiley's home.
One police narrative notes that among them were black powder, flash powder, cardboard tubes containing flash powder, and a time fuse. All are used in the making of fireworks — though they could certainly hurt someone if used in a violent or negligent manner. And Kiley was aware that the components were illegal.
Police also discovered marijuana, marijuana plants, a rusted and pitted gun from 1858 in a glass case (which Kiley says belongs to a friend who was hoping to use his Internet connection to research its worth), and an inert grenade that Kiley had as an Army souvenir.
While he managed to escape federal charges, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office has charged Kiley with 10 counts of explosives or incendiary device possession (Class 4 felonies), two counts of possession of a weapon by a previous offender (including one for the gun, Class 6 felonies), one count of possession of marijuana (a Class 6 felony), and one misdemeanor charge of marijuana cultivation.
Kiley could serve more than 60 years if convicted on all charges and given the maximum sentences. He says prosecutors are offering him a plea deal for two to six years that he'll likely take at a disposition Monday, Aug. 20. He's already talked to a friend who's agreed to care for his things and his dog.
"It's been real hard and I've got no one to blame but myself, really," Kiley says. "I realize I made a mistake, but I'm paying way too big of a price for it."
District Attorney Reginald Short, who's prosecuting the case, says the main charges for the explosives are based on a law that passed after 9/11. The 2002 law references "weapons that may cause mass destruction," and Short notes that it's about knowingly possessing illegal explosives: "It doesn't require the person to have any evil mind in regard to the device or components."
But Kiley's neighbors say it's unfair to fixate on one person when police ignore illegal fireworks all the time.
"There was a house down on the other end of the block, that they had quote-unquote illegal fireworks, you know, not manufactured by themselves, but they probably launched off $3,000 worth of stuff," Maestas says. "And I watched the cops drive by and not even care."
Kiley too, feels picked on.
"The reason I'm here is to let people know what the hell could happen to them," he says.
"... I'm an honorably discharged vet, and I feel like I'm being treated like a bomber, like a terrorist."