BOISE – A jury of 11 women and one man will continue deliberating today in the case of a North Idaho lawyer accused of hiring a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boise, where Edgar J. Steele’s trial began a week ago.
Steele’s lawyer, Robert McAllister, questioned the reliability of FBI recordings and said the plot was really the work of the prosecution’s key witness, Larry Fairfax. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws countered in his closing argument that the case is “simple”: Steele wanted his wife, Cyndi, killed so he could be with a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman he met through an online dating website.
Steele sent more than 14,000 online messages to women in what his lawyer and wife characterized as research into the Russian mail-order bride industry.
Although Steele’s fingerprints are not on the pipe bomb that was strapped under his wife’s car, Haws told jurors that his “legal fingerprints” are all over it.
Haws played portions of the recordings in which Steele and Fairfax discuss the plot to kill Cyndi Steele and her mother.
Haws read several quotes in which Steele urges Fairfax to “get this job done” and mentions the possible car insurance payment as a “powerful incentive.”
Haws also reminded jurors of Steele’s reaction when police falsely told him his wife was dead. Police described Steele’s reaction as flat and forced until they told him he was under arrest for murder for hire and a fecal odor filled the air.
“I would submit that his body reacted and told more truth than his mouth did,” Haws said.
Haws said jurors are to be more skeptical of Fairfax’s testimony because of his involvement in the case, but that everything Fairfax has said is supported by evidence.
In one of the recorded meetings with Steele, Fairfax is given $400 to travel to Portland. The FBI seized that money after the meeting.
“This is corroboration,” Haws said. “This says Mr. Fairfax was telling you the truth.”
But McAllister said all evidence in the case points not to his client but to the handyman Fairfax, who claims to have been hired by Steele to carry out the killings. The only ties Steele allegedly has to the pipe bomb came from Fairfax’s testimony, which McAllister said can’t be trusted.
The pipe bomb strapped to Cyndi Steele’s SUV was Fairfax’s “act of defiance,” McAllister said, referring to a book Fairfax has said he wants to write called “An Act of Defiance: Built on Lies and Deceit by the FBI.”
Daryl Hollingsworth, who met Fairfax and Steele in the Bonner County Jail, testified Wednesday that Fairfax asked him to design the cover to include a “picture of Larry Fairfax’s logging truck running over an Aryan Nations member.”
Steele was a lawyer for the Aryan Nations in a 2000 lawsuit that bankrupted the racist group.McAllister said the Steeles did have marital problems 10 years ago, but “the evidence in the next 10 years is that they raised their family,” lived in North Idaho and were happy.
“Never did Edgar Steele show anything besides love for his family,” McAllister said.
McAllister reminded jurors that Cyndi Steele said there were problems with the recordings, such as unexplained breaks and syntax issues.
“There is one conclusion about those recordings: they are nothing but tar,” McAllister said. “… It’s fantasy talk; it’s fiction; it’s Larry Fairfax talking and trying to set up Edgar Steele.”
“Unfortunately in real life, this is more than just trying to write a book, it’s putting people’s lives in danger,” McAllister said.
Haws said there’s no proof that the recordings are anything but authentic, that Steele would like jurors to think that a “Mission: Impossible” plot has been created by the government, but “the recordings themselves tell you they are accurate” from the flow and syntax to the presence of outside noises that carry through statements.
He said the idea that Fairfax could have “the sophistication and the tools” to put together a recording in the 30 minutes he was to visit with Steele is wrong.
“That can’t happen,” he said.
Steele 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. He also is charged with the use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.