March 7, 2011 in Idaho

Steele murder-for-hire trial moved to April in Boise

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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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.

The delay also gives audio experts with the FBI time to review the recordings.

Defense lawyers had missed the deadline for notifying prosecutors of expert testimony, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said the government hadn’t planned to address the recording’s authenticity until they learned of the defense expert late last month.

Steele’s lawyers, Gary Amendola and Robert McAllister, had asked for a continuance on three previous occasions.

They wrote in court documents Friday that were the trial to proceed this week, Steele would not receive effective counsel.

Winmill denied that request, saying he didn’t see how Steele’s situation would change if a delay was granted. Winmill said McAllister has been working with federal public defender Roger Peven since November, but McAllister said today that Peven did not let him access evidence until he formally became Steele’s lawyer on Feb. 7.

Amendola said the seriousness of the charges drives his concern.

“I just think it’s wrong for us to have been pushed so hard to get this done today,” Amendola said. “The gravity of the charges is what heightens my concern.”

Steele, 65, is charged with 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. The last charge carries a minimum 30 years in prison.

Steele has been in custody since June 11. His wife, Cyndi Steele, believes he’s innocent and says the government is conspiring against her husband to silence him. Edgar Steele is a self-described “attorney for the damned” best known for defending the Aryan Nations in a 2000 civil suit that bankrupted the racist group.

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