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Day 9: Family recalls blast at Rotterdam home

Day 9: Family recalls blast at Rotterdam home

Colleen Capitummino woke to a flash early on the morning of Aug. 26, 2001.

Colleen Capitummino woke to a flash early on the morning of Aug. 26, 2001.

She had been sleeping on the second floor of her family’s new home on Shardon Court in Rotterdam as were her 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. Her husband Steve was downstairs in the living room, having fallen asleep watching television.

“I woke up to a bright flash of light and then I just heard this extraordinary bang,” Capitummino testified Thursday morning at the terrorism and arson trial of Steven Raucci.

“I had no idea what it was at the time,” she said. Everyone in the house was jolted awake, as were many neighbors. Porch lights went on up and down the block.

The explosion on that warm night was even louder downstairs. Wafting in through the open windows was the distinct smell of sulfur.

Jolted awake early that morning, the Capitumminos checked the furnace and looked outside, but they didn’t look outside their front door. They finally decided it was kids playing with firecrackers and went back to bed. Unknown to the Capitumminos, the blast was just outside their front door, where a bomb had been placed in the loop-type door handle.

Defense attorney Ronald De Angelus seized on the Capitumminos’ original thought that it was children playing with firecrackers, suggesting in questioning that young people were still up.

But the next morning, Colleen Capitummino found the damage when she went to water plants.

There was a softball sized depression behind the door handle. A screw from the handle was later found across the street.

There was cardboard or paper pieces strewn across the stoop. She also discovered a note under a rock next to the door:

“Just wanted to let you know we don’t like you and your grievances,” the note read in all capital letters. “Maybe we can’t do anything about that, but we can deal with you. Your [sic] good at harassing our friend because she’s a girl, well let’s see how tough you are dealing with men.”

She called her husband from the backyard. The note made no sense to either of them. The husband worked as a sales representative in the lighting business.

Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, the former facilities chief of the Schenectady City School District, is on trial in Schenectady County Court on a 23-count indictment charging him with numerous incidents of criminal mischief, as well as major felonies of arson and terrorism over a period of years.

Some of Raucci’s alleged crimes were aimed at maintaining and solidifying his position in the school district where he was also president of the union local that represented the employees he supervised, the prosecution said.

Neighbors gather

The night before, Shardon Court had been alive with activity. The Capitumminos’ new neighbors were throwing their annual block party. Residents gathered, a band played and there was a bonfire. Children played on a bouncy bounce.

The next day, as word spread of what happened, neighbors gathered again.

The Capitumminos’ neighbors included as many as eight police officers, including Rotterdam Police Department Sgt. Robert Denny. They checked with the neighbors, but only Denny was home. He came down and read the note.

Denny instantly knew the bomb wasn’t meant for them.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney alleged in his opening statements that Raucci bombed the home after learning of a dispute Rotterdam police dispatcher Cynthia Chevalier was having with Denny.

Chevalier took the stand after the Capitumminos. She testified about a grievance filed related to dispatching equipment on Aug. 4, 2001. She also testified she had heard that Denny had denigrated her personal job performance, something that weighed heavily on her mind. She spoke about those concerns to others in her CSEA union. She said she never spoke to Raucci, but he had been present at least at one meeting.

Raucci is accused of four bombings or attempted bombings. In three, he is accused of acting in disputes that were not his. No one was injured in any of the incidents.

The prosecution alleges that Raucci, who barely knew Chevalier, made inquiries about Denny’s address and placed a bomb at what he believed to be Denny’s door. Denny’s home was the same number of houses from the end of Shardon Court as the Capitumminos’ — but from the opposite end.

Denny testified later, confirming Chevalier’s assessment. The equipment was a safety issue, he said. The equipment was eventually replaced.

Colleen Capitummino also testified about a truck she saw parked in front of their home on multiple early mornings, sometime between 1 and 4 a.m. She told investigators of the truck after the bombing. She couldn’t see who was inside, but it was one person.

It took investigators more than seven years to arrest Raucci as a suspect. But it didn’t take long after the bombing for investigators to speak with him, despite his tenuous connection to the Chevalier-Denny dispute.

Rotterdam Police Detective Christopher Foster testified Thursday that he quickly heard, through now-Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton, that Raucci had been making inquiries about Denny’s address.

Hamilton and Raucci had a familial relationship at the time. Hamilton’s brother, Michael Hamilton, was married to Raucci’s niece.

Raucci interviewed

Foster called Raucci at the school district. Raucci returned the call and they met in the Mont Pleasant Middle School parking lot Aug. 30 in Foster’s car. Foster told Raucci the reason for the visit.

Raucci began to turn toward Foster with his hand on the back of Foster’s seat.

Foster asked why Raucci had been asking about Denny’s address.

“His physical reaction changed dramatically,” Foster testified. “He brought his arm down, his face looked surprised.

“He turned in his seat,” Foster continued, “folded his hands and looked down.”

After a pause, Raucci explained that an unnamed individual had asked him about Denny. He didn’t have the person’s name. It was at a CSEA luncheon; it was later at Petta’s Restaurant that he inquired about Denny.

Foster told Raucci to call if he remembered who had asked. The investigation went on.

De Angelus suggested Raucci told Foster it was Hal and Deborah Gray who asked about Denny, that they were friends with the dispatcher, Chevalier.

The Grays were Raucci’s alleged victims in vandalism and intimidation incidents beginning in 2005.

Foster said Raucci never relayed the name of the person he said asked him about Denny.

De Angelus also asked if Foster interviewed any other suspects. Foster said no one else was interviewed.

Investigators had little else to go on at that point. By late 2008, investigators had an informant, Keith McKenna, wearing a wire while talking to Raucci. Raucci then allegedly admitted he did the Rotterdam bombing “for a friend,” prosecutors have said.

Foster was also one of two who interrogated Raucci after his Feb. 20, 2009, arrest. Raucci said little in the interrogation and a video of it won’t be used at the trial, Carney has said.

The note left at the Capitumminos’ house led police to believe it was Denny, not the Capitumminos, who was the target, and ultimately to an interview with Raucci.

However, the note could have provided more insight, but the circumstances of the note’s discovery, time and a “clerical error” prevented more from being learned, according to testimony.

Investigator Drew McDonald, a forensic investigator with the state police, testified he analyzed the note, finding two fingerprints. The note, however, had been handled by the Capitumminos, as well as neighbors, before being secured as evidence. The prints were entered into a statewide fingerprint system, where prints can be purged once cases reach their statute of limitations.

Prints lost

That limit is generally five years, but with charges such as first-degree arson, which Raucci faces, there is no limit. But the prints were lost in January 2008 because of a “clerical error,” McDonald said, just before the investigators began to finally zero in on Raucci. The case was categorized with a limit, leading the prints to be purged.

Also Thursday, explosives expert John Curry testified. Curry was a chief technical sergeant with the state police at the time of the bombing and was called in to help investigate. Curry was the investigator that located the screw across the street.

Carney asked Curry his assessment of what caused the damage to the door.

“In reality, they’re destructive devices,” Curry said. They’re illegal to make in the United States.

They’re commonly called M-100s, M-1000s or quarter-sticks, Curry said.

“There’s a number of things they’re called, but we call this a destructive device or an improvised explosive device,” Curry said.

Curry also identified photos of the surviving devices from two other attempted bombings Raucci is charged with, identifying them as the same type that exploded in Rotterdam.

As a result of the bombing, the Capitumminos said they no longer leave windows open. The house is now always locked tight.

Colleen Capitummino described the experience as terrifying. Steve Capitummino said it has had a lasting effect on their children, especially their daughter, now 17.

“To this day,” the father said, “she doesn’t like to be in the house alone. It’s scary when somebody comes to your house and does something like that.”

The trial will resume on Monday.

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