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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: murder plots

Edgar Steele: I didn’t defecate myself

Before he was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday, Edgar Steele told the court he wanted his lawyer at trial to show jurors the underwear he was wearing when he was arrested to dispute FBI claims that he may have defecated himself. 

Steele said Robert McAllister, who has since been disbarred for unrelated reasons, refused, and Steele criticized the move as stifling a chance to show jurors at his murder-for-hire trial last spring that lead investigator and FBI agent Mike Sotka “was a liar.”

Under questioning from prosecutors during the trial in Boise last spring, Sotka said Steele stood up and an “odor of fecal matter” filled the air when FBI agents told him they knew of the murder plot.

The agents “feared that Mr. Steele had defecated himself,” Sotka said, though he never said they verified Steele did so. The FBI had told Steele his wife and mother-in-law had been killed in a ruse to observe his reaction before his arrest in June 2010.

On Wednesday, Steele said he began to suspect something was not right when the agents told him his mother-in-law had been shot to death.

“I did smell something, and it wasn't the odor of defecation - one of many lies (FBI agent Mike) Sotka told to the jury,” Steele said. “I have the underwear I was wearing that day…hasn't been washed…I couldn't get McAllister to bring them in to show Sotka was a liar.”

Steele also took issue with Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan telling the court he had liposuction after his heart surgery. Whelan said undergoing the procedure shows Steele wasn't bed-ridden and incapable after the surgery. Steele said the procedure wasn't “frivolous” and was done because he was self conscious about his breast size.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office disputes Steele's claims of lies and corruption.

“Mr Steele was targeted for investigation, convicted at trial and sentenced to prison ebcause of his own criminal conduct, and for no other reason,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Judge denies Steele’s new-trial motion

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A federal judge has denied Edgar Steele's motion for a new trial.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied the motion in an order filed today. Read his 18-page ruling here.

Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Wednesday by Winmill in Coeur d'Alene. Prosceutors are seeking 50 years in prison.

A jury in Boise convicted him of four felonies May 5 for paying his handyman, Larry Fairfax, in silver to kill his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb so he could spend time with a young Ukrainian woman he met online.

Steele's been in jail since his arrest in June 2010. Fairfax is serving 27 months for placing a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele's car and not telling authorites.

 “To plan the murder of an innocent spouse is unthinkably heartless,” federal prosecutors Marc Haws and Traci Whelan wrote in a sentencing recommendation in U.S. District Court. “To manipulate a financially desperate neighbor to commit the murder with a violent car bomb explosion is depraved.”

Prosecutors compared Steele, a former lawyer to Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and the self-described “attorney for the damned,” to  Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoyevski’s novel “Crime and Punishment.”

“In his plotting, Edgar Steele seems modeled on Raskolnikov: too far above the law, and too smart to get caught,” prosecutors wrote.

Read more from the sentencing recommendation here.

Steele is to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Check for updates, and follow me on Twitter.

Feds want Ed Steele to serve 50 years

A North Idaho attorney convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his wife should  spend 50 years in prison for his “chillingly calculated” crimes, prosecutors said in recent court filings.

Edgar J. Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Nov. 9 at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene. A jury convicted him of four felonies May 5 after a two-week trial in Boise for paying his handyman, Larry Fairfax, in silver to kill his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb so he could spend time with a young Ukrainian woman he met online.

 “To plan the murder of an innocent spouse is unthinkably heartless,” federal prosecutors Marc Haws and Traci Whelan wrote in a 13-page sentencing memorandum filed Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court. “To manipulate a financially desperate neighbor to commit the murder with a violent car bomb explosion is depraved.”

Prosecutors compared Steele, a former lawyer to Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and the self-described “attorney for the damned,” to  Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoyevski's novel “Crime and Punishment.”

“In his plotting, Edgar Steele seems modeled on Raskolnikov: too far above the law, and too smart to get caught,” prosecutors wrote.

Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, (pictured with attorney Wesley Hoyt after the verdict in May) believes he is innocent and a victim of a government conspiracy to silence him.

Fairfax secretly recorded Steele discussing the plot but was arrested after Steele was because Cyndi Steele found a pipe bomb under her car that Fairfax had affixed weeks earlier.

 Fairfax told FBI agents he didn't tell them about the bomb because it was rigged not to work and was no longer attached to the vehicle, but testimony at trial showed otherwise. Fairfax was sentenced in May to 27 months in prison.

Steele's lawyer Robert McAllister was disbarred in Colorado shortly after the trial for ethical violations unrelated to Steele's case, including misusing client money. In a motion for a new trial, McAllister has said he was ineffective as Steele's counsel during trial because he was distracted by his pending disbarment.

The motion has not yet been ruled on by the court.

Steele's new lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, did not return a phone call seeking comment today.

The minimum sentences for each of Steele's convictions - use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, use of explosive materials to commit a federal felony, possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim - is 40 years.

But prosecutors say such a sentence “would not adequately reflect the totality of the Defendant's actions in plotting to kill his wife, commissioning pipe bombs and obstructing or tampering with a witness into consideration; it would punish him only for the use of an explosive or destructive device.”

They are recommending U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill sentence Steele to 600 months in prison, or 50 years.

Prosecutors said Steele had opportunities to change his mind but because “heartlessly more insistent” that Fairfax (pictured) “get this job done” by any means, including a gun shot or car crash. (Federal agents actually told Steele his wife had been run off the road in a ruse just before his arrest. They say he stood up and a fecal matter filled the air when they told him they actually knew of the murder plot.)

In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors include several quotes from Steele's recording with Fairfax prior to his arrest. A sampling: “Go get, get this job done, Larry.” “Okay, I'm counting on it. I mean, Larry I am really up against it, it has to happen right now.” “Well, you better not get your f**king ass caught.”

Prosecutors also quoted Steele discussing the need for Fairfax to make sure Cyndi Steele dies because he doesn't want to take care of a paraplegic.

“These few, chilling words from Steele's own heart, mind and mouth establish the outrageous circumstances of his offenses,” prosecutors wrote.

Steele had no previous criminal record and was a long-time attorney handling civil cases. Steele has said his ideologies and defense of racists like Butler motivated his prosecution, but prosecutors say “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“His ideologies were no reason to bring this case, and his ideologies were no dissuasion from bringing this case,” prosecutors wrote. “Incarceration is warranted in this case, not because of what Edgar Steele's ideologies re, nor because of who Edgar Steele is, but because of what he did to commit these crimes.”

Steele asks for new murder-plot trial

The recently disbarred lawyer who defended North Idaho attorney Edgar Steele at his murder-for-hire trial says he acted ineffectively because he was distracted by his own legal problems.

 Robert McAllister said his thinking process during Steele's trial in Boise, which ended with his conviction on all counts in May, was disrupted by the pending disbarment proceeding in Colorado, which stemmed from allegations that he embezzled money from clients.

“…I assumed I could perform was well as I had performed previously, not understanding the full extent that the prospect of disbarment would have on me,” McAllister wrote.

McAllister's statement is included in a 50-page motion for a new trial filed this week in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has until Sept. 12 to respond to the motion. A hearing before a judge has not been scheduled.

Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Nov. 14 for four felonies related to a plan to kill his wife with a pipe bomb strapped under her car by a handyman he'd hired as a hitman.

 Steele faces at least 30 years in prison; he's been in custody since his arrest in June 2010.

An 11-woman, 1 man jury convicted him May 5 after a two-week trial in Boise.

The motion, drafted by Steele's new lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, who once represented his wife and alleged victim, Cyndi Steele, calls for a new trial based on ineffective counsel and alleged prosecutorial and FBI misconduct, among other issues. (Hoyt and Cyndi Steele are pictured after a jury convicted Edgar in May.)

Hoyt said McAllister failed to subpoena audio expert George Papcun, whom Hoyt says would have provided crucial testimony regarding the authenticity of audio recordings in which Steele discusses the plot to kill his wife with hitman-turned-FBI informant Larry Fairfax. Papcun traveled to Bora Bora with his wife during the trial and was unable to testify.

Coeur d'Alene lawyer Gary Amendola blames McAllister for failing to secure Papcun's presence. He said he believes McAllister didn't properly prepare for the trial.

“His cross examination of witnesses called by the United States was disjointed and random and often did not get to the issue that needed to be addressed,” Amendola wrote. “His examination of witnesses called by the defense was equally weak, disjointed and random. He also paid little attention to directives from Edgar Steele.”
Amendola calls McAllister's closing argument “rambling and ineffective” and said he failed to address key legal issues, including those raised in jury instructions.

McAllistter took over the case from Roger Peven, executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Hoyt alleged Peven provided ineffective counsel because he was “seriously distracted” by legal proceedings regarding alleged poor management of the office.

“Peven and McAllister stand as proverbial 'bookends' of ineffectiveness,” the motion reads.

Steele has said he is the victim of a government conspiracy to silence him because of his views on politics and race.

Steele describes himself as the “attorney for the damned” and says he defends the politically incorrect. He defended late Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler against the 2000 civil lawsuit from the Southern Poverty law Center that bankrupted the racist group.

The motion alleges non-government organizations like the SPLC and Anti-Defamation League pressured the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute Steele. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson has said no one knew of Steele until Fairfax told the FBI he'd been hired to kill his wife.

The motion also said Steele's mental state was compromised “by his arrest, solitary confinement and sudden withdrawal of prescription pain medications” but his lawyers failed to explore the issue.

Ex-CdA developer guilty in murder plot

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal jury has unanimously convicted a former Coeur d'Alene-area developer of crafting a murder-for-hire scheme to kill a prosecutor and key witnesses in a North Idaho drug case.

Kelly J. Polatis was found guilty Wednesday of 14 combined counts of witness tampering and using interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire. The jury acquitted Polatis of three charges. Defense attorney Lawrence Leigh says he'll appeal.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups will sentence Polatis on Sept. 30. He faces more than 130 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Polatis attempted to hire an undercover FBI agent posing as a hit man to kill five people who spoke to authorities about his involvement in a marijuana growing operation in Coeur d'Alene. Polatis was acquitted of the drug charges in 2010 and arrested on the murder-for-hire charges the same day.

May 24: Trial set in U.S. attorney murder plot case

May 13, 2010: Couple in pot case murder plot sentenced

April 21, 2010: FBI: Murder plot uncovered in marijuana case

Jury deliberating in Idaho murder plot

A federal jury in Salt Lake City on Wednesday continued to deliberate the fate of a former North Idaho developer accused of plotting to kill several witnesses and a federal prosecutor connected to a drug case filed against him in Idaho.

 Jurors began their second day of deliberations in the murder-for-hire case of 41-year-old Kelly J. Polatis, following a 7-day trial and closing arguments in the case, which wrapped up Tuesday.

Read the full story from the Salt Lake City Tribune here.

Past coverage:

May 24: Trial set in U.S. attorney murder plot case

May 13, 2010: Couple in pot case murder plot sentenced

April 21, 2010: FBI: Murder plot uncovered in marijuana case

Man claims role in Tupac’s murder

NEW YORK (AP) — A hip-hop mogul wanted by federal authorities on drug charges did not orchestrate a plot to ambush rapper Tupac Shakur outside a recording studio in the mid-1990s, his lawyer said Thursday.

The accusations against James Rosemond, owner of Czar Entertainment, were levied online and attributed to convicted killer Dexter Isaac, who is serving a life

 sentence in an unrelated murder-for-hire plot. Isaac says, according to the website, that he was paid $2,500 by Rosemond to shoot and rob Shakur.

Shakur (pictured in 1993) was hit five times in the shooting at the Quad Studios in Manhattan in 1994. He survived but was later gunned down in Las Vegas in a slaying that remains unsolved.
The mystery surrounding Shakur's death has fueled interest in the smallest of details about his life, as well as the old-school feud between East Coast and West Coast rap that some say contributed to his killing.
Isaac stole jewelry off Shakur and handed over a diamond ring to Rosemond after the late-night ambush, the post published Wednesday reads.
“I still have the chain that we took that night,” he wrote, according to the post.
New York City police were investigating the claims, though it's not clear if anyone would face charges, in part because the incident occurred about 17 years ago. Rosemond is wanted by federal authorities in New York on drug charges and as of Thursday remained a fugitive.
Erin Mulvey, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, refused to comment on Isaac and would not give any details on Rosemond.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, could not comment about the federal case against his client. But he said the accusations posted online were lies fabricated because Isaac is upset he was outed as a government informant.
“This is a guy who is a blood-thirsty killer, trying to work off a life sentence, and for some reason his accusations are taken as fact?” Lichtman asked.
The post is rife with bitterness directed at Rosemond.
“Now I would like to clear up a few things, because the statute of limitations is over, and no one can be charged, and I'm just plain tired of listening to your lies,” according to the post.
Isaac was convicted in the 1997 murder-for-hire shooting death of cab driver Waleed Hammouda. The victim's wife, Micheline, offered Isaac property in exchange for killing her husband. She was also convicted.
He is serving life in prison and was transferred earlier this year to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn from a prison in Colorado.
An employee at the Brooklyn detention center said inmates were not allowed to receive calls and were allowed only approved in-person visits. In order to be approved, a person must first write to the inmate and receive a visitor form.
It wasn't clear whether Isaac still had a lawyer, and a call to the website wasn't returned.

Woman with trail of dead husbands dies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — An elderly grandmother who left a trail of five dead husbands in five states over decades has died, leaving a longer trail of questions for survivors of her spouses that might never be answered.

  Betty Neumar, 79, died late Sunday or early Monday in a hospital in Louisiana after an illness, her son-in-law Terry Sanders told The Associated Press.

“She was tough country girl and fought through a lot of pain,” said Sanders, who has been married 38 years to Neumar's daughter.

Authorities in North Carolina said they planned to look into her death. She was free on $300,000 bond on three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in the 1986 death of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry. Her trial was postponed numerous times since her arrest in 2008.

“We're going to make sure we examine the death certificate,” said Sheriff Rick Burris of Stanly County, N.C.

Read the rest of the story by Associated Press writer Mitch Weiss by clicking the link below.


Trial set in U.S. attorney murder plot

Trial for a man accused of plotting to kill a federal prosecutor and witnesses in a North Idaho marijuana case is set for July. 

Pre-trial motions in the case of Kelly J. Polatis are due by June 1 with jury selection set to begin July 11, a federal judge in Utah ruled last week.

Polatis has been in federal custody in Utah since April 2010, just after a North Idaho federal jury acquitted him of drug charges related to a mairjuana grow operation in Post Falls.

Before his acquittal, prosecutors say Polatis tried to kill his co-defendants by hiring a man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agents. 

A judge recently rejected a request by his lawyers to dismiss the murder-for-hire charges for outrageous government misconduct. The defense alleged the FBI agents led Polatis on when he was drunk, and also alleged prosecutors were vindictive when they filed the case right after Polatis was acquitted on the marijuana charges.

According to court documents, Polatis met with FBI Agent Greg Rogers, who was posing as a hitman, on May 13, 2009, at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, where they gambled, ate lunch and discussed a murder-for-hire proposal. Rogers told Polatis he would need a $15,000 down payment, and Polatis said that was fine.

Two days later, Polatis called Rogers and said he wanted to hire him”to cut off the finger of a man he believed had been cheating with his common-law wife,” accoridng to court documents. “Polatis also indicted that having Agent Rogers commit that act would give Polatis absolutely confidence in Roger in connection with the murder-for-hire.”

Prosecutors say Rogers knew the name of one of Polatis' intended victims before the meeting but not others.

“…Agents were unaware of the identities of those victims until Polatis actually met with Agent Rogers,” according to court documents. “Agents were also completely surprised when Polatis raised the issue with Agents Rogers of killing Assistant United States Attorney Nancy Cook.”

Polatis is represented by Lawrence Leigh of Slat Lake City and Gabriel Grasso of Las Vegas, who was part of former football great O.J. Simpson's defense team in 2008. They say Polatis was set up by the FBI, and that Rogers badgered him into discussing the plot while intoxicated.

Polatis is a former partner with Kirk-Hughes Development, LLC, which fought Kootenai County’s rejection of its proposed Chateau de Loire lakeside development. The firm's lawyer appeared in court with him when he was first arrested.

Past coverage:

May 13, 2010: Couple in pot case murder plot sentenced

April 21, 2010: FBI: Murder plot uncovered in marijuana case

Document details Steele’s trial request

Edgar Steele's lawyers have 10 reasons he should receive a new trial, including alleged untimely production of Larry Fairfax's notes, errors in admitting the video tapped deposition of his alleged Ukrainian love interest, and newly discovered evidence about the viability of the explosive device.

Federal prosecutors listed the reasons in a document filed last week in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene in response to a sealed document by  defense lawyers Robert McAllister of Colorado and Gary Amendola of Coeur d'Alene that talks of intent to seek a new trial.

The defense document was filed a week after a jury in Boise convicted Steele of four felonies related to a plot to kill his wife and mother in law.

According to prosecutors, McAllister and Amendola included the following reasons:

1) Newly discovered evidence regarding Jeff Buck and the viability of the explosive device (from Fairfax's sentencing);
2) Defense was unable to secure the attendance of Dr. George Papcun to testify;
3) Contention that the Court erred in excluding the testimony of Dennis Walsh;
4) Alleged violation of attorney-client communication privilege;
5) Alleged untimeliness of production Fairfax’s “fictional book” notes;
6) Alleged error in allowing cross-examination of Cyndi Steele using the petition for divorce from 2000;
7) Alleged error of admitting the video tape deposition of Tatyana Loginova;
8) Alleged error in sustaining objections to testimony of Bob Stoll, DVM;
9) Allegations of error in sustaining Government objections during cross-examination of Larry Fairfax; and
10) Allegation of error in instructing the jury as to the second question of the jury during deliberations.

The sealed motion filed last week apparently was not an actual motion for anew trial - it asked for more time to file that motion.

Prosecutors objected to that request, saying the fact that the defense was able to list 10 reasons for a new trial seven days after the verdict was proof they didn't need more time.

But U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the defense until June 30 to file final post-trial motions. Steele is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 22; he faces at least 30 years in prison.

Edgar Steele requests new trial

A North Idaho attorney convicted last week of hiring his handyman to kill his wife and mother-in-law has requested a new trial.

 Lawyers for Edgar J. Steele, 65, filed a motion for a new trial Thursday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The motion is sealed. Lawyer Robert McAllister, of Colorado, declined to discuss its contents, and Gary Amendola did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in prison when he's sentenced in August.

A jury convicted him May 5 of use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim after a week-long trial in Boise.

The hitman-turned FBI informant, Larry Fairfax, was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday for a pipe bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.

Cyndi Steele believes her husband was framed because of his defense of clients like the late Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.

Jury convicts Edgar Steele on all counts

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Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson is pictured after the verdict. In back, from left to right, are two unidentified officials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws. Above that photo is a slideshow of photos showing Edgar Steele through the years. 

BOISE – A North Idaho lawyer accused of plotting to kill his wife failed to persuade a federal jury that he was the victim of a government conspiracy to silence him.

The U.S. District Court jury of 11 women and one man Thursday convicted Edgar Steele of hiring handyman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax to kill his wife, Cyndi Steele, and mother-in-law.

Cyndi Steele, pictured with her attorney, Wesley Hoyt. vowed to appeal the verdict. She believes her husband was targeted because of his defense of unpopular clients.

Read the rest of my story here.

A previous version of the story with more than 20 reader comments is available here.

A no-contact order between the Steeles has been lifted, and they are free to visit in jail whenever visiting hours permit.

A background piece on Steele is available here.

Steele was convicted of the following felonies:
1. Use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission for murder (for directing Larry Fairfax to drive to Oregon to kill his wife.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
2. Aiding and abetting use of explosive material to commit a federal felony (for a pipe bomb Fairfax strapped to Edgar Steele's car at Steele's direction so authorities would think his wife's killer also targeted him.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
3. Aiding and abetting possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence (for the pipe bomb on Cyndi Steele's SUV.) Punishable by a minimum 30 years in prison.
4. Tampering with a victim (for a phone call he made to Cyndi Steele after his arrest). Punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Defense expert to refute Steele recording

In what defense lawyer Robert McAllister said was “great news,” a man hired by the defense to refute the authenticity of the FBI recordings in the Edgar Steele case will be allowed to testify.

McAllister requested Monday that George Papcun be allowed to testify. Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed, and defense lawyers are working to arrange a time. Papcun could testify via video, similar to the taped deposition by Steele's alleged love interest, 25-year-old Tatyana Loginova of Ukraine. 
Papcun said he wouldn’t use the term “suspicious” to describe anomalies in the recording because a variety of factors could have caused the glitches he observed.
Winmill ruled today that testimony provided by Cyndi Steele and her daughter, Kelsey Steele, opened the door for testimony from Papcun about whether the recordings have been altered by the federal government.
Prosecutors are expected to present witnesses to rebut Papcuns testimony. The case could be with the jury as early as late tomorrow or early Wednesday.

Cyndi says she knew of Edgar’s women

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Edgar Steele’s call to his son
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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

These are portions of phone calls from the Kootenai County Jail that were played for jurors today in the murder-for-hire trial of Edgar Steele.

BOISE - Cyndi Steele testified today that she knew her husband was talking to European women online but said the communication was part of his research into Russian mail order brides.

She said the two often sat in his home office reading the correspondence from the women. “We would end up laughing together, because we didn't believe it was always the pretty girl behind the writings,” she testified today, the second day of testimony in Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial. “It could be a man as far as we knew.”
Cyndi Steele (pictured at a press conference last October) said she knew Edgar told the women he was divorced and wanted to have babies with them, though she admitted she didn't know he'd sent them pictures of their Talache Road home.
“I gave him the go ahead because I trusted him,” she said. “He would let me read anything I wanted; I knew what he was sending…I knew all about it, and I knew it was a case, and I knew he saw a book in it.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan emphasized that Cyndi Steele didn't read every email.
“He was lying to you, Cyndi,”  Whelan said. 
Cyndi Steele, the victim of the alleged murder plot, said she knew Edgar wrote to one of the women, Tatayna Loginova, from the jail confessing his love. Whelan questioned why he would continue to lie for research purposes while jailed on such serious federal charges.
Steele's testimony was interrupted repeatedly as prosecutors called for her responses to be stricken because they didn't address the questions. The final dispute arose just before scheduled adjournment at 2:30 .m., so attorneys for both sides will meet with Judge B. Lynn Winmill at 8:15 a.m. Friday to discuss. Cyndi Steele's testimony is expected to continue at 8:30 a.m.
Much of today's testimony focused on Edgar her husband's correspondence with other women and the couple's past marriage problems.
Steele and her mother owned a dance studio in San Francisco when her mother was injured in a car crash. Someone recommended they seek counsel from a law office. Edgar Steele had recently been hired there. The Steeles married in 1985. 
But by the late 1990s, Edgar Steele had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his wife was experiencing “issues” that kept them apart, according to testimony. Cyndi Steele briefly sought a divorce in 2000 after creating a fake profile to see if Edgar, who advertised himself as single, would respond.
Whelan asked Cyndi Steele if the marriage was saved because Edgar Steele said he “merely wanted to try on other women but had decided that you were the one for him.”
“That's a very small summary of it, but I'd say yes,” Cyndi Steele said.
“Because he was so unhappy, he was looking to see if our home life was really what he wanted or if there was something better,” she continued. “I think he was really questioning his life about everything.”
Whelan then asked about this past year, when Cyndi was splitting her time between Edgar's health problems in North Idaho and her mother's health problems in Oregon.
“It was very hard, because I need to be in both places,” she said. “I had to go where the most emergency was…I had to weigh it, and it was hard to weigh it because I had two people who I very much loved who need me.”
“I can understand why he felt I was maybe neglecting him,” Cyndi said of Edgar. “I hadn't been getting enough of him, either.” 
But she emphasized that the situation was “much different” than the problems that provoked the divorce petition 11 years ago.
Aftrer her husband's arrest, Cyndi Steele reported $45,000 in silver missing from the home and listed FBI informant Larry Fairfax as the suspect.
Defense lawyers say Fairfax set up Edgar to cover up his theft of silver from the Steeles.
But Whelan said today that Edgar had cashed about that same amount in silver last April. 
Cyndi said she was aware of that and factored it in when counting their silver.
Jurors heard phone calls Edgar Steele made to Cyndi and their son, Rex, from the Kootenai County Jail after his arrest that led to tampering with a witness charges.
Steele told his wife he feared she was seeing someone else.
“I'm only suffering because I love you and I'm not getting enough of you,” he said.
He also urged her to stand “like a rhinoceros in the road” and tell authorities the voice on the recordings with Fairfax “was not my husband's voice.” 
Cyndi Steele said she doesn't believe her husband was trying to unduly influence her in the call.
“He was trying to tell me he was innocent, and that's what he was standing up for,” Cyndi Steele said. “He never asked me to lie, and he knows I would be upset if he wrongly went to prison.”
In the phone call, Cyndi told Edgar that she rmembered him telling her to get out of his life after his surgery. Edgar said he made the comment while heavily medicated; Cyndi testified today that he didn't mean the comment.
“i don't count that as he wanted a divorce; he was extremely sick,” she said 

Cop details Steele’s reax to wife’s death

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.

Defense: Fairfax stole silver, set up Steele

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.

13 women, 1 man to hear Steele case

BOISE - Thirteen women and one man will hear the case of a North Idaho attorney accused of hiring a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

Two of the 14 jurors selected Tuesday for the trial of Edgar Steele will be alternates. All will hear opening statements today beginning at 8:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Boise.
The jurors were selected from a pool of 65. At least 20 said they'd heard of the case through the media, but all said they still felt they could be impartial.
All jurors were asked if they were affiliated with groups that advocated “racial or ethnic superiority” or opposed it.
Only one said yes - a woman who said her daughter served as the youth representative for the Ada County Human Rights Commission. She was not stricken because of that.
Steele faces at least 30 years in prison if convicted of possessing a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence. He's also charged with use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim. 
Steele's supporters, including his wife, say he has been framed by the government to silence him for his views  and legal work. Steele calls himself “attorney for the damned” and is known for defending the Aryan Nations against the lawsuit that bankrupted the racist group. 
Past coverage:
April 26: Jury selection begins in Edgar Steele trial

Jury selection begins in Edgar Steele trial

BOISE - Jury selection is underway in the trial of a North Idaho lawyer accused of hiring a hitman to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

Edgar J. Steele, 65, faces at least 30 years in prison if convicted of his most serious charge - possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.

Steele also is charged with use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim. The tampering charge stems from a phone call he made to his wife, Cyndi Steele, from the Kootenai County Jail after his arrest. 

A pool of 65 potential jurors was called to the federal courthouse in Boise this morning. Fourteen will be selected; two as alternates.

A couple jurors have already been dismissed because of scheduling conflicts and financial difficulties.

About 20 potential jurors said they'd heard of the case before today, but all said they could still be impartial. One woman said she heard about the case from her sister who lives in North Idaho.

“I would hope I would be able to put it out of my mind, yes,” she said.

She was stricken from the pool not because of that incident but because she said serving would be a personal hardship because she needs to help her husband with their cattle farm.

One man said he told a friend he couldn't make lunch today because of jury selection. The friend replied via email that the “Steele case” was underway and that he should “tell them you don't like lawyers,” the man told U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

He remains in the jury pool.

Steele's supporters say he has been framed by the government to silence him for his views and legal work. Steele calls himself “attorney for the damned” and is well known for defending the Aryan Nations against the lawsuit that bankrupted the racist group.

Cyndi Steele believes he is innocent and has criticized prosecutors for not pursing more serious charges against the alleged hitman-turned-FBI informant, Larry Fairfax. Fairfax (pictured) is expected to testify at trial.

Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele’s car. The FBI says Fairfax put it there but never told investigators.

Fairfax pleaded guilty last October to two federal weapons charges and is to be sentenced after Steele's trial.

Prosecutors say Steele wanted his wife murdered because he “had been establishing a relationship with a young woman who lives outside of the United States,” according to court documents. Cyndi Steele says her husband was helping the woman in relation to his work fighting human trafficking. 

Steele's lawyers wanted to call expert witnesses who believe the recordings of Fairfax and Steele discussing the plot have been altered, but a judge rejected that last week.

The trial was moved to Boise after it was delayed at the last minute March 7 in Coeur d'Alene.

Court is scheduled until 5 p.m. today. Opening statements could take place this afternoon.

Trial for the rest of the week is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Past coverage:

April 13: Audio experts to testify at Steele trial

Ruling a setback for Steeleā€™s defense

BOISE - Edgar Steele’s defense won’t be able to call two expert witnesses it lined up to question the authenticity of FBI tapes of Steele talking with Larry Fairfax about an alleged murder-for-hire plot against Steele’s wife, Cyndi, a federal judge in Boise ruled Thursday.

The testimony and expertise from one proposed expert was unreliable, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill found, and the qualifications and testimony of the second were irrelevant, at least at this point.

Steele, a self-described “attorney for the damned” who’s represented clients including the Aryan Nations, goes to trial on Tuesday on four felony charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife and mother-in-law; he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Cyndi Steele’s lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, is the one who contacted the proposed experts and sent them the FBI tapes. “Mrs. Steele believes that the tapes were manipulated,” he said after the judge’s ruling Thursday. “The victim is totally supporting the accused. She believes in his innocence.”

Read the rest of Betsy Z. Russell's story here.

Past coverage:

April 19: Evidence hearing set for Edgar Steele

April 13: Audio experts to testify at Steele trial

Edgar Steele trial drew volunteer jurors

Here's a report from Betsy Z. Russell:

BOISE - When a federal court prepared to select a jury in Coeur d’Alene last month to try former Aryan Nations lawyer Edgar Steele on charges including murder for hire, the court got a rare surprise: Some people showed up and tried to volunteer.

Steele now is scheduled to go to trial in Boise on Tuesday. At a hearing Wednesday on pre-trial issues, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill said , “There was a rather unusual event in Coeur d’Alene - several individuals showed up and wanted to volunteer to be on the jury.”

Winmill said he’s never seen that happen in all his years of judicial service. “It was rather odd,” he said.

So when jury selection starts in Boise on Tuesday, the judge said, court personnel have been instructed to not admit any prospective volunteers.

Steele faces up to 30 years in federal prison on four felony charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

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