BOISE - The murder-for-hire case against Edgar Steele is really the work of financially strapped man desperate to cover up his theft of silver from Steele's home, defense lawyer Robert McAllister said this morning.
"This case is as much about a man named Larry Fairfax as it is about Edgar Steele," McAllister said in his opening statement.
"You will see no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Steele ever made an explosive device, ever touched an explosive device, ever approved of an explosive device or ever told Larry Fairfax to make an explosive device," McAllister said.
McAllister described Steele as a lawyer, father and "established author or writer" who was living "the good life of retirement" in Sagle after "a career of representing clients, some of whom were very unpopular."
"First question," McAllister said, "why would Edgar Steele want to kill his wife and mother-in-law, and, if he did, why would he ask somebody like Larry Fairfax to do it?"
Steele nearly died and underwent surgery in late 2009. Cyndi Steele took care of him when he returned home. She split her time between Sagle and Oregon City, where her mother was battling cancer, McAllister said.
The Steeles talked on the phone nearly every day.
"They would literally spend 45 minutes at a time talking about each other and talking about the problems that faced their lives," McAllister said.
At that same time, unbeknownst to the Steeles, Fairfax was cashing in silver he'd stolen from them, McAllister said.
Fairfax was a handy man who had worked for the Steeles for about 10 years. He'd gained their trust and knew where their silver - their life savings - was stored.
The Steeles "didn't really trust banks or the economy or the way things were going, so they put their life savings in silver and they kept it in their house, and they trusted Larry Fairfax to know where the silver was located," McAllister said. He said evidence will show "that (Fairfax is) a man desperate for money, and he's a man who has admitted to being a liar. He's a man who has filed for bankruptcy, and he's a man who would do anything for money."
Fairfax claims the pipe bomb he affixed to Cyndi Steele's car was rigged so it couldn't explode. But he never mentioned the device when he first approached the FBI about the alleged murder plot.
"He never tells them that Cyndi Steele is driving hundreds of miles back and forth from Oregon City with this device on her car," McAllister said.
Experts are expected to testify that, despite Fairfax's claims, the device was capable of exploding.
Fairfax, McAllister said, "didn't tell the whole truth, he didn't tell nothing but the truth. The evidence will show, and he admits it, he lied to the law enforcement agencies."
McAllister said Edgar Steele had no reason to want his wife dead.
He said the women Steele was talking to online were part of his research for a book on human trafficking. Jurors will read letters and emails sent by Steele that "are not the type of letter written by a murderer, or someone who wanted to attempt a murder," McAllister said.
McAllister said Fairfax told FBI agents "I can set up Edgar Steele; I can show you how he told me to do this" when he first approached them June 8.
Fairfax secretly recorded a conversation with Steele the next day. Steele was arrested June 11 and has been in federal custody since.
Fairfax also is in custody on federal firearms charges related to the pipe bomb on Cyndi Steele's car. He's to be sentenced after Steele's trial.
"This is a case built on evidence, and I think you will see before the case is concluded, that all the evidence points back to Larry Fairfax," McAllister said. "Larry Fairfax is at the center of this case. You will see from the evidence - it's undisputed - that this is all his doing."
FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka was the first witness to testify.
Court is on an hour break right now; testimony will continue at 11:35 a.m., Boise time.