BOISE - Idaho State Police Trooper Jess Spike has notified families of about two dozen deaths in his career.
Never has he seen a reaction as stoic as that of Edgar Steele at his Sagle-area home last June when Spike told him his wife, Cyndi Steele, had died in a car crash after being run off the road near Portland, Ore., Spike testified today.
"It was flat, paused, almost contrived. It was as if he was trying to retrieve something in an archive and come up with what the answer was. It wasn't natural," Spike said. "He kind of choked up. It appeared as though he was trying to develop tears, and no tears developed."
Investigators then told Steele his wife had been run off the road but the assailant had crashed and was hospitalized, and that the man was "somewhat conscious" and detectives "were trying to put the pieces together," Spike said.
"I think that was the first point that I noticed a change in his demeanor. He seemed somewhat surprised at that point in time, that what he had expected had kind of gotten away from him, and it wasn't something he'd planned for," Spike said. "It was more genuine in reaction."
FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka asked Steele if he knew Larry Fairfax. Steele replied that he did.
Sotka asked if Steele suspected his wife might be having an affair.
"I do remember him saying, 'well, she is over there a lot,'" Spike said.
Sotka continued to push Steele to see if he would repeat what he'd promised Fairfax he would say in the recorded conversation.
"He just kind of took it hook line and sinker and just went with it," Spike said. "I remember him patting his stomach implying that (Fairfax) was heavy set and that he didn't think Mrs. Steele would go for someone like that."
According to a recording played for jurors Tuesday, Steele told Fairfax he would tell investigators about a suspected affair if Fairfax was arrested.
“Like in ‘Mission: Impossible,’ I will disavow your existence," Steele said, according to the recording. "… There won’t be anything I can do except throw you to the … wolves.”
Steele had also said he planned a lunch appointment with a friend as part of his alibi. Steele's friend Allen Banks showed up the day at of his arrest for a meeting with Steele, investigators said.
When investigators told Steele his mother-in-law had been shot, Spike said the lawyer's reaction was simply "F**k me."
"It was almost, I'm searching for the word, surprise and disbelief?" Spike said.
Steele mentioned organizations that may have been out to get him and his family, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spike said.
Then Sotka took a phone call and told Steele he'd just been informed that Fairfax told investigators "to ask Mr. Steele what was going on, that he could answer all of the questions that he had."
Spike said Steele "had no reaction whatsoever."
That's when investigators told him his wife wasn't actually dead and that he was under arrest for hiring Fairfax to kill her, Spike said.
Fairfax testified Wednesday that Steele had a list of about 12 others he wanted killed, too. He finished testifying this morning and denied arranging the plot to set up Steele.
Defense lawyer Robert McAllister emphasized that Steele never confessed to being involved in the plot.
"The whole idea was to get him to crack, to make some kind of omission, and he never did," McAlliser said of Spike's false death notification.
But Spike said investigators wanted to see if Steele would do what he told Fairfax he would.
From mailing items at the Post Office to transporting lumber and arranging a lunch appointment, "there was just a number of things that all lined up," Spike said.
"This 'ruse' as the defense counsel put it was to basically cross those ts and dot those i's so we could put two and two together," Spike said.
Along with Spike, this morning's witnesses included an FBI agent in Portland who notified Cyndi Steele of the alleged plot, and a Coeur d'Alene FBI agent who led the search of Steele's Talache Road home the day of his arrest. Cyndi Steele could testify this afternoon.