May 26, 2011 in Idaho, News

Convicted attorney threatens suit over book policy

Associated Press
 
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SANDPOINT, Idaho — A North Idaho attorney convicted by a federal jury for his role in a plot to kill his wife has filed a tort claim against Bonner County, alleging the jail’s policy for providing books to inmates violates his religious freedoms.

Edgar Steele, 65, was convicted on four counts in U.S. District Court in Boise earlier this month in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife and mother-in-law last year. He at least 30 years in prison and is being held in the Bonner County Jail pending sentencing scheduled for August.

Steele, who once represented the Aryan Nations, is now taking aim at the jail’s book policy, claiming Bibles are the only religious texts delivered to inmates, a limitation he said infringes on his right to religious freedom.

Steele said he is a Taoist, a philosophical and religious tradition that emphasizes compassion, moderation and humility with roots in sixth century China.

In his claim, Steele also contends the jail essentially censors other inmate reading materials because they are passed out by chaplains and heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalist themes. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that Steele is pressing for a broadened book policy at the jail.

“This constitutes an illegal and extensive entanglement of church and state,” Steele wrote in his four-page tort claim.

If the county denies the claim, Steele would be free to file a civil lawsuit against the county in state court.

County officials declined to comment on the filing, citing a policy against making statements about potential litigation.

A federal jury deliberated for fewer than eight hours before finding Steele guilty of use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission for murder for hire, possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim.

During the trial, federal prosecutors played recordings that they said contained the voices of Steele and Larry Fairfax, a handyman who worked for Steele and offered $25,000 in exchange to carry out the killings.

Steele wanted the women dead so he could collect on an uninsured motorist insurance policy and be free to pursue a relationship with a woman from Ukraine, prosecutors said.

Neither his wife nor his mother-in-law was harmed, but employees of an auto shop found a pipe bomb strapped underneath the car of his wife, Cyndi Steele.

Prosecutors said Fairfax tipped off federal investigators about the scheme.

Fairfax, who worked for Steele and his wife at their Sagle ranch for years and was a key government witness during the trial, was convicted of possession of an unregistered firearm and manufacturing a firearm for his role in the plot. He was sentenced earlier this month to 27 months in federal prison.

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