COEUR d’ALENE — A federal judge on Tuesday decided Edgar J. Steele would be too great of a risk to intimidate potential witnesses and obstruct justice in his case, and could become a public-safety risk if released pending his August trial.
So, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale decided Steele will remain in the custody of U.S. Marshals and be held at Spokane County Jail.
Steele, a longtime attorney and a resident of Sagle, is accused of paying a hitman to kill his wife and make it look like an auto accident. He has been indicted for murder-for-hire, but has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Court documents say Steele was recorded in two conversations he had with an informant as they allegedly planned the murder of Cyndi Steele and her mother. The informant wore a hidden recording device during the two meetings.
During a detention hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci J. Whelan played two audio recordings. Neither were of the conversations between Steele and the informant and alleged hitman, Larry Fairfax, also of Sagle.
The two recordings heard in court were those of Edgar Steele calling his son, Rex Steele, and Cyndi Steele from Kootenai County jail on June 13. The calls occurred two days after Edgar Steele was arrested for the alleged murder-for-hire plot. Fairfax came forward to tip authorities off about the plot.
Fairfax was arrested on firearms charges on June 15 after an oil change crew found a large pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele’s vehicle that day. Fairfax neglected to mention the pipe bomb to authorities while working as an informant against Steele, and was involved in placing the explosive there, according to court testimony.
Steele launched into the calls to his son and wife by saying, “This is the single most important call I’ve made in my life.”
He explains that federal prosecutors are going to ask Cyndi Steele to listen to the recordings of him and Fairfax the next day. Authorities would want to authenticate his voice, he said.
Steele told both that she must tell federal authorities: “That is not my husband’s voice.”
Steele told his wife, “Like a rhinoceros in the road, you have to stand your ground and say nothing but that.”
Speaking to Rex Steele, he said, Cyndi Steele “can’t even say that might be me.”
Federal defender Roger Peven argued for his client’s release during the hearing.
Peven said his client has no criminal history in 65 years, and as an attorney Steele was always in good standing as an officer of the court. Steele also served honorably in the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.
Peven said Steele would submit to electronic monitoring if released, would stay in contact with Peven’s law office, and honor the no-contact orders approved by the court to prevent Steele from talking to his wife and mother-in-law.
Peven also said Steele took no overt actions to carry out the planned murders.
Whelan, however, argued that Steele is accused of a crime of violence, another reason not to release him.
Whelan said, “Mr. Steele didn’t just sit and think about his wife being killed.”
Dale found that the jail-house recordings demonstrated that Steele is a risk to obstruct justice and intimidate witnesses.
Dale heard “if not direct threats, then indirect threats” in some of Steele’s statements to his wife and son.
Steele told his son, “She holds my life in her hands.”
Steele said federal prosecutors wouldn’t be satisfied until he was in prison for 20 to 25 years.
“In other words, I’d die in prison,” he said, again speaking to his son.
Steele told his wife that she would have to explain to their children why she allowed him to be sent to prison for the rest of his life.
Steele said the audio Cyndi Steele would hear when she met with federal prosecutors on June 14 would be highly edited by federal investigators, likely pieced together from multiple recordings. He said he was “convinced” that what she would likely hear in the recording or recordings would sound “unthinkable” to her.
Describing the recording, he said, “This is a ‘Mission Impossible’-type of job” and is a “world-class level production.”
He told his wife, “They’ve pulled out all the stops.”
He told her, “I’d never be so stupid as to hire anyone to kill anyone.”
He certainly wouldn’t hire someone to kill her, he insisted.