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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: pipe bombs

Experts dispute Fairfax’s claim re: bomb

This pipe bomb was attached to Cyndi Steele's car June 15 when she went to a Coeur d'Alene auto shop for a routine oil change. The photo was shown to jurors today in Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial.

BOISE - A Spokane County bomb expert said at Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial today that the pipe bomb attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV last June was capable of exploding and unlike any device he's seen.
 
“It's the largest pipe bomb that I've dealt with,” said Sgt. Mike Kittilstved, head of the Spokane County bomb squad, which dismantled the device.
 
Though hitman-turned-informant Larry Fairfax has said he rigged the bomb so it wouldn't explode, Kittilstved and other experts said that's wasn't the case.
 
Kittilstved said the device contained “a significant amount” of powder.
 
“Definitely enough to ignite the device,” he said.
 
Fairfax has said he cut the fuse in several places to prevent it from burning through.
 
But Agent Brennan Phillips, an explosives expert for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the black tape on the device would still burn in place of the fuse.
 
“In fact, the tape will burn a little bit faster,” he said.
 
Phillips said the construction of the device showed him that “certainly there's a desire to make sure this thing works,” he said.
 
The bomb experts were today's last witnesses. 
 
The prosecution is expected to rest Monday after testimony from Steele's alleged European love interest.

Steele’s lawyers hint at defense plan

Two private defense attorneys representing accused North Idaho lawyer Edgar Steele said in documents filed this week that they intend to “introduce expert evidence relating to a mental disease or defect.”

That disease or defect has “bearing on (Steele's) guilt or his lack of a knowing or intentional mental state,” according to the document, filed Monday by Steele's attorneys, Robert T. McAllister, of Denver, and Gary Amendola, of Coeur d'Alene.

The document offers a glimpse at a possible defense strategy for Steele, who is accused of hiring a hitman turned FBI informant to kill his wife, Cyndi Steele, and her mother.

Steele faces decades in prison under federal charges that allege he hired a man who affixed a pipe bomb under his wife's SUV.

Prosecutors say they have tape recordings of Steele talking about the plot with the would-be hitman, Larry Fairfax. In one recording, Steele tells Fairfax “to make sure that they were dead after the accident because Edgar Steele did not want to take care of a paraplegic” according to an affidavit prepared by the FBI.

Wesley Hoyt, a lawyer representing Cyndi Steele, has said the federal government is capable of manufacturing Edgar Steele's voice on those tapes. Cyndi Steele is adamant that her husband is innocent and visits him at the Spokane County Jail on a weekly basis.

Steele had been represented by Roger Peven, executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, but U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill approved Steele's request for new counsel during a closed hearing Monday in Coeur d'Alene.

Amendola is a longtime Coeur d'Alene defense attorney who's handled many high-profile cases.

McAllister does not have a license to practice law in Idaho but is licensed in Colorado. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago and Denver from 1976 to 1983 and has been in private practice since.

Murder plot victim slams federal prosecutors

In a 16-page affidavit prosecutors suggested may have originated with her jailed husband, alleged murder plot target Cyndi Steele rails against a plea deal arranged with FBI informant Larry Fairfax and accuses the U.S. Attorney’s Office of violating her rights as a victim.

The document, filed under seal but emailed to the Spokesman-Review by an associate of Steele’s, can be read here

In it, Steele calls for Fairfax to be charged with conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder and says the FBI told her about murder plot co-conspirators who still have not been arrested. She claims the FBI knew of the 12-inch pipe bomb affixed to her SUV (pictured) before auto shop employees discovered it June 15 and says they allowed her to drive from Oregon to North Idaho knowing the device was on her car. 

Steele says her fear over the bomb was fueled by death threats made against her family, including her children, “whenever my husband would take political positions on various issues,” according to the affidavit. “Death threats occurred quite often when my husband was acting as a First Amendment defense lawyer protecting the individual’s right to freedom of speech….Some of these death threats were made by persons affiliated with the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that has professed a strong dislike for my husband and some of his political positions.”

The Anti-Defamation League did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Steele called for the plea hearing to be postponed, but U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill declined, noting she’d filed her request that morning despite knowing of the hearing for two weeks.

“I have to question either the motive or the sincerity of their request,” Winmill said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said the affidavit contains opinions and statements she believes aren’t true. She said Cyndi Steele has made it clear she wants nothing to do with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She’s been in contact with the office in two occasions - to retrieve her husband’s computer and to retrieve silver she says Fairfax stole but investigators say was given to him as a partial payment in the murder-for-hire plot, Whelan said.

Fairfax’s plea hearing was instead postponed because he was reluctant to admit that the bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele’s car had the potential to explode.

Read my full story here.

Steele seeks to keep feds out of client files

A former lawyer for the Aryan Nations is asking a judge to stop federal investigators from searching materials seized from his North Idaho home law office.

Edgar J. Steele is concerned government searches may compromise attorney-client privilege, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene. 

“There is a concern that Mr. Steele represents clients and groups that are of interest to the government,” wrote Steele’s federal public defenders, Roger Peven and Kailey Moran.

Steele is accused of hiring someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He’s being housed at the Spokane County Jail after a raid June 11 at his home on Talache Road, east of Shepherd Lake near Sagle, where the FBI believes he plotted with Sagle resident Larry Fairfax to use pipe bombs kill Cynthia Steele and her mother-in-law. Fairfax went to the FBI and secretly recorded Steele talking of the plot, leading to Steele’s arrest, according to court documents.

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

Fairfax waived a grand jury indictment last week and is charged through complaint with possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful manufacturing of a firearm. He’s being held without bail.

Steele’s lawyers say they’ve received copies of conversations between Fairfax and Steele, but no other evidence, including the items seized from Steele’s home, has been provided. The motion filed Monday seeks a preliminarily injunction to stop the search of Steele’s computers and files “until the warrant can be received to determine if proper procedures are in place to protect the privacy of the information seized.”

Moran did not return a phone call seeking comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet filed a response, and no hearing for the motion has been scheduled.

Past coverage:

June 22: Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

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

Federal murder-for-hire suspect Edgar Steele will stay in jail pending trial after a judge found he had attempted to intimidate potential witnesses in the case – his wife and son.

In a detention hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors played two tapes of phone conversations Steele had with his wife, Cyndi, and his son, Rex, while being held at Kootenai County Jail on June 13.

On the tapes, Steele warns his wife that she will be contacted by government officials the following morning and will be asked to authenticate his voice on recordings that he tells her are doctored to sound as if he’s hiring a hit man to kill her. He pleads with her to say that it’s not his voice she hears on the tapes.

Listen to the recordings above.

Read Alison Boggs’s story on today’s hearing here.

Past coverage:

June 21: No bail for suspect in pipe bomb murder plot

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in murder plot held without bail

A suspected hitman-turned-informant who federal investigators say didn’t tell them he’d already planted a bomb on the car of a murder-plot target was ordered held without bail on Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale called her decision to keep Larry A. Fairfax, 49, behind bars “very difficult” but said he was a danger to the community.

Fairfax has been in jail since June 11 after auto shop employees found a pipe bomb attached to a car brought in by Steele’s wife Cyndi Steele for an oil change. The Sagle man told investigators the week before that he’d been hired by Steele to murder Steele’s wife and mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb, federal agents testified on Monday.

The two-hour hearing included testimony from Fairfax’s 26-year-old son, wife of 31 years and a retired judge and lawyer, Jim Michaud, who called Fairfax “about the hardest working guy I know.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in Steele’s murder plot due in court

 The man accused of planting a pipe bomb under Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV is due in federal court in Coeur d’Alene this afternoon for a bail hearing.

Larry A. Fairfax, 49, has been in custody since last Monday night.

The Sagle man apparently told federal agents about an alleged murder plot hatched by Steele against his wife, Cyndi Steele, and his mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb. He was arrested after employees at an auto shop found it when Cyndi Steele came in for an oil change about 12:30 p.m. lat Tuesday. Her son picked her up, and the two were at Edgar Steele’s first court appearance at 4:30 p.m.

Steele is being housed at the Spokane County Jail. He’s due in court tomorrow morning for a bail hearing. He has a public defender but said last week that he hopes to hire Coeur d’Alene attorney Glen Walker, former Kootenia County prosecutor.

As I explain in this Sunday story, Steele (pictured right in 2000) calls himself “the attorney for the damned,” has gained national attention for his work with high-profile clients and was a coveted speaker in the national racist movement for years.

Check out photos of Steele over the years here.

Past coverage:

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

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