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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Robert McAllister

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.

Edgar Steele disbarred in Washington

Idaho attorney Edgar Steele won’t be representing any Washington clients from his jail cell. 

The Washington Supreme Court suspended Steele Wednesday from practicing in the state pending disciplinary proceedings that could result in disbarment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in a federal prison for his May 5 conviction on four charges related to his attempt to have another man kill his wife and mother-in-law.

He is in the federal custody awaiting sentencing in August.

Until he commissioned a bogus hitman, Steele was best known for his unsuccessful defense of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler.

Steele's lawyer, Robert McAlister, was recently disbarred in Colorado.

Edgar Steele’s lawyer disbarred in Colo.

The Colorado lawyer who defended Edgar Steele in his murder-for-hire case has been disbarred.

Robert T. McAllister agreed this week to give up his law license after he acknowledged misusing client funds on two occasions unrelated to Steele's case, according to a document signed in Colorado Supreme Court.

According to the document, which is available here, McAllister misused a $5,255.43 check while representing a company in a lawsuit. He also used $100,000 from another client, transferring $80,000 into his own account and $20,000 into an accounted owned by Steamboat Skyglass Lodge, LLC, an entity he controls.

McAllister was chief criminal deputy for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in District of Colorado and the Northern District of Illinois from 1976 to 1983.

Steele was represented by a public defender until supporters raised a reported $120,000 and McAllister took over. McAllister handled most of the questioning during Steele's trial in Boise last month, which ended with jurors convicting Steele on all charges

McAllister and co-counsel Gary Amendola have said they intend to ask for a new trial ; it's unclear how that will proceed now that McAllister is disbarred.

Amendola did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Lawyer Wesley Hoyt, who is working with Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, said he had no information.

“This is the first I've heard of it,” Hoyt said today. “I intend to look into the matter, and that's about all I can say.”

McAllister is described by the publication Law Week as one of Denver's most well-known defense lawyers. He could not be reached for comment.

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.

Evidence hearing set for Edgar Steele

A judge will review evidence in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire case at a hearing Wednesday in Boise.

Federal prosecutors are concerned about reports from two defense experts that they say are repetitive and lack the substance needed to be admitted at trial, which is set to begin with jury selection next Tuesday in Boise. One report is a “copy and paste” of the other, prosecutors say.

Trial was to begin March 7, but prosecutors wanted defense expert Dr. George Papcun excluded from trial, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said he couldn't issue a ruling then. Prosecutors then joined in the defense motion to continue trial, leading to the delay.

Winmill said he would review Papcun's report at the evidence hearing. On March 17, defense filed an expert notice for Dennis Walsh, but prosecutors say Walsh's report is identical to Papcun's report. They've asked for Walsh's testimony to be excluded or for him to provide “a more full report,” accoridng to court documents.

Winmill is to consider those issues on Wednesday.

In a memorandum filed Monday, prosecutors cited case law that says courts “may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered” and exclude testimony.

They said neither Papcun nor Walsh submitted reports that indicate their testimony will be based on sufficient facts or reliable principals.

“Interestingly, the opinion provided in George Papcun's report seems to have been “cut and pasted” into Dennis Walsh's report verbatim,” according to the memo.

The reports say the recordings, which investigators say show Steele discussing the murder plot with hitman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax, are unreliable and “do not accurately reflect the sounds and conversations that actually occurred.”

But prosecutors say they do not offer details.

“The experts unsupported opinion that the voices on the recordings are dubbed or do not belong to Steele is designed to confuse the jury,” accoridng to the memo.

Steele's lawyers, Gary Amendola and Robert McAllister, were not immediately available for comment. 

Steele was to undergo a mental health examination last week in Boise at the request of prosecutors.

His wife, Cyndi Steele (left), said he will not be presenting an insanity defense, rather, Steele's lawyers will argue that he was under the influence of medication and could have been easily influenced and manipulated by Fairfax. 

Those expected to testify for the defense include Daryl James Hollingsworth (right), a Bonner County Jail inmate who recently pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

Hollingsworth may have had contact with Steele and/or Fairfax while in jail.

Past coverage:

April 13: Audio experts to testify at Steele trial

June 20, 2010: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

Read more past coverage here.

Steele trial postponed, moved to Boise

Trial for a North Idaho attorney accused of hiring someone to kill his wife has been postponed until late next month and will take place in Boise.

Lawyers for Edgar Steele requested the continuance to allow more time to prepare an expert witness who is expected to question the authenticity of audio recordings of Steele allegedly discussing the plot with hitman-turned-FBI informant Larry Fairfax.

Court scheduling and concerns about pretrial publicity prompted U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to move the trial to Boise.

Read my full story here.

Steele’s lawyers want trial moved to Wyo.

Edgar Steele's lawyers want his murder-for-hire trial moved to Wyoming. 

A change of venue request filed by Robert McAllister and Gary Amendola cites “negative pre-trial publicity” that will hinder finding an impartial jury in North Idaho.

The lawyers say ongoing news coverage, including the release of phone calls that are the basis for a witness tampering charge against Steele, was assisted by the U.S. government or Spokane County Jail officials.

“There was no need for anyone to release evidence in a criminal case to the media other than to gain an unfair advantage,” according to the motion.

The phone calls were actually made from the Kootenai County Jail - not Spokane, where Steele has since been housed. The Spokesman-Review obtained the recordings after they were played in open court at Steele's bail hearing last June.

McAllister and Amendola want the trial moved to U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, Wyo., where potential jurors who “know nothing about the negative and highly prejudicial pre-trial publicity” are available. If the request is denied, the lawyers want to conduct “careful and deliberate voir dire examination” regarding pre-trial publicity.

Federal prosecutors have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to respond.

Steele is accused of hiring a hitman turned FBI informant to kill his wife, Cyndi Steele. Prosecutors say he was involved with another woman overseas. In a prepared statement, Cyndi Steele says she knew of the woman, who she says was contacted by her husband as part of his ongoing legal work to stop human trafficking.

The trial is set to begin March 7.

Feds: Affair was Steele’s murder motive

A North Idaho lawyer accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife was involved with another woman who received a letter from him after his arrest, federal prosecutors allege.

 Edgar J. Steele, 65, wanted his wife murdered because he “had been establishing a relationship with a young woman who lives outside of the United States,” according to documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene.

Ukrainian officials interviewed the woman and say she provided them with a letter she received from Steele after his arrest last June.

Prosecutors say they plan to show jurors other letters and evidence outlining steps Steele took to meet the woman.  The new information regarding Steele’s alleged motive in the murder-for-hire plot was included in documents filed by prosecutors seeking to keep Steele in custody without bail pending his trial next month.

Read the rest of my story here.

Judge rejects Edgar Steele’s bail request

A North Idaho lawyer accused of hiring a hitman to kill his wife remains jailed after a failed attempted by his lawyers to implement a $1 million bond.

Edgar J. Steele's new private attorneys, Gary Amendola, of Coeur d'Alene and Robert McAllister, of Denver, asked U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale to allow Steele's wife and alleged victim, Cyndi Steele, to testify Wednesday regarding her willingness to put up her property in exchange for her husband's release pending trial.

But Dale refused and questioned their claim that her decision to keep Steele in jail last June was based on “foundation-less, hearsay-filled evidence.”  She read excerpts from phone calls Steele made to his son and wife after his arrest in which he urged her to tell authorities it was not his voice discussing the murder plot on secretly taped recordings.

“I think if you had taken the time to listen to the detention hearing…that you would not have even submitted this motion to the court,” Dale told McAllister. “There has not been a single change in circumstances.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Steele's supporters filled the courtroom Wednesday, including Cyndi Steele, Deon Masker and Stan Hess.

At one point, Hess, (pictured) a former Coeur d'Alene school and North Idaho College board candidate, confronted a supporter who sat in the courtroom holding a tattered paperback book with large swastikas on the cover.

Hess asked him why he insisted on being a walking stereotype. The book was “They Thought They Were Free” by Milton Mayer.

Steele’s supporters propose $1m bond

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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

Edgar Steele's new lawyers want him freed from jail before his murder-for-hire trial. 

Steele's wife and alleged victim is prepared to “put all of her property on the line in order to obtain a bond for her husband,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

The proposed $1 million bond would be covered by titles to the Steele's property and would be cosigned by Cyndi Steele, David Shelly, Jeff Miller and Allen Banks, according to a motion filed by Robert McAllister and Gary Amendola, who took over Edgar Steele's defense last week.

McAllister and Amendola say the evidence against their client, a UCLA law school graduate with no criminal record, is too weak to support keeping him in custody. They say the case depends on unreliable audio recordings and the word of the alleged hitman turned informant, Larry Fairfax, whom they describe as a petty criminal.

A hearing on the motion for bail is scheduled Wednesday in Coeur d'Alene. Stelele has been in jail since June, accused of hiring a hitman turned FBI informant to kill Cyndi Steele and her mother. His trial is set to begin in March.

He faces decades in prison under charges that include witness tampering for jailhouse phone calls he made to his wife after his arrest.

In the phone call (posted above), Steele urged her to tell federal authorities that the voice on the recording of the murder-plot discussion does not belong to him.

“No matter what you hear, no matter what you think, no matter what you feel, you have to say the following: ‘No, that is not my husband’s voice,’ ” Steele said. “Then, like a rhinoceros in the road, you have to stand your ground and refuse to say anything but that.”

In the 15-page motion, Steele's lawyer say Cyndi Steele doubts the authenticity of the murder-plot discussion recording.

“She said that whenever there were discussions about the alleged plot she noticed changed in background noise and her husband's voice lost certain inflections that were very familiar to her,” according to the motion. “She told FBI agent Suyak that the tapes were untrustworthy in her opinion.”

In documents filed Feb. 7, McAllister and Amendola said they intend to “introduce expert evidence relating to a mental disease or defect bearing on his guilt and his lack of a knowing or intentional mental state.”

“As of this time, no such notice has been filed by the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Defendant,” the lawyers wrote.

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.

Edgar Steele seeks new defense lawyer

Edgar Steele is set to ask for a new attorney in his murder-for-hire case.

Longtime Denver defense lawyer Robert T. McAllister said a hearing will take place Monday morning in Coeur d'Alene.

 “I am not Mr. Steele's attorney of record at this point in time, but I have been asked to represent him,” McAllister said. “If the court permits me to enter as his attorney, I intend to do so.”

Steele, an anti-Semitic North Idaho lawyer who describes himself as the “attorney for the damned,” currently is represented by Roger Peven, executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho.

Peven was not available for comment.

Steele (pictured above) has been in the Spokane County Jail since last summer, accused of hiring a hitman to kill his wife, Cyndi Steele. Prosecutors say the alleged hitman, Larry Fairfax, told the FBI of the plot and recorded Steele discussing the plan. 

Fairfax was arrested a couple days after Steele when auto shop workers discovered a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele's car. Fairfax said he didn't tell the FBI about the device (pictured) because he thought it was no longer on the vehicle. He also said he'd rigged it so it wouldn't explode but pleaded guilty in October to two federal weapons charges related to the bomb.

He was to be sentenced on Monday, but that hearing has been delayed until after Fairfax's testified at Steele's trial. Steele's trial is set to begin March 7. Fairfax's new sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 16. 

Steele faces decades in prison under charges of use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, tampering with a victim, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.

Cyndi Steele denies the charges and is critical of prosecutors' treatment of Fairfax. She said Fairfax set up her husband to try to cover up his theft of silver coins. Prosecutors say Steele gave those coins to Fairfax as a down payment in the murder plot.

Cyndi Steele is represented by Colorado and Idaho lawyer Wesley Hoyt, who said McAllister is prepared to go to trial in March, but there are “conditions that might dictate otherwise.”

Both lawyers will be at the federal courthouse in Coeur d'Alene Monday morning.

“It's going to be a very, very interesting time,” Hoyt said.

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