Edgar Steele (r.) confers with political activist Paul Venable.
Trooper Spike was referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center
(SPLC), which bankrupted the northern Idaho-based Aryan Nation white
supremacist group in a 2000 lawsuit. Steele, a controversial lawyer who described himself as the “Attorney for the Damned,” had represented the Aryan Nation in
court, thereby earning the abiding enmity of the SPLC and its allies, including
the Anti-Defamation League — both of which are quasi-private affiliates of the Homeland Security apparatus.
In addition to his legal work, Steele was a polemicist on behalf of worldview that can fairly be characterized as white supremacist. The author of a book entitled Defensive Racism, Steele disavowed aggressive violence. This wasn’t true of at least some of his detractors: Prior to June 11, 2010, Edgar
Steele had received death threats that the FBI had traced back to the the so-called Jewish Defense League, which has been implicated in more than adozen domestic terrorist incidents in the United States.
In the months leading up to June 11, Steele had endured a near-fatal heart attack. On the morning he received the news, he was still recuperating from a second health crisis, a nasal aneurysm that had left him hospitalized just a few weeks earlier. So he was in pretty fragile condition as horrible news
accumulated suggesting that his enemies were laying siege to his family. But that wasn’t the final shock he was to endure on that crowded morning: Agent Sotka suddenly announced, “Your wife is not dead … you’re under arrest.”
Sotka appears to be selectively fastidious about following
FBI procedures, since he did all of this by himself, without having a second
Agent present, as dictated by Bureau policy. What this means is that the
recordings heard by the court – and that had been played to Cyndi Steele by
Agent Sotka prior to the trial – were, at the very best, a third-generation
copy of the original digital file, which was destroyed by Sotka without being
heard by himself or anybody else.
When the version of the recording was played for Cyndi
Steele, the alleged victim and target of the purported murder-for-hire plot was not convinced that what she heard was an actual conversation involving her husband. Furthermore, the version of the recording played in court contained an
odd repetitive clicking noise, which the prosecution insisted was the sound of
“Tic-Tacs” rattling in Fairfax’s
pocket. That noise, which wasn’t present on the pre-trial version, is the kind of audio artifact that can result when a recording is digitally assembled from several different sources.
On May 3, Judge Winmill, exhibiting his habitual, undisguised bias in
favor of the prosecution, dutifully reversed his
ruling and issued an entirely whimsical demand that Dr. Papcun be physically
present in Boise, Idaho no later than 8:30 a.m. the following morning –
Wednesday, May 4 – in order to testify at the pre-trial hearing.
teleportation nor sub-orbital commercial flight is presently available, the earliest Papcun could be available was Thursday, May 5.
Papcun was willing to interrupt his vacation, and the defense was willing to
pay the expense. However, Judge Winmill – who was consistently flexible in
meeting the prosecution’s demands – maintained that there wasn’t sufficient
wiggle room in his schedule to permit Papcun to testify on Thursday. None of
this would have been necessary, of course, if Winmill had simply stuck to his
initial ruling and permitted Dr. Papcun to offer fully interactive testimony by
way of a video conference held at the nearest U.S. consulate.
The question of motive was probably the biggest of the
numerous weaknesses in the prosecution’s case: Why would a man who had just
recovered from a near-fatal aortic aneurysm seek to murder the wife whose personal care had been indispensable to his recovery?
The prosecution confected a
story in which Steele – a senior citizen in fragile health – was secretly
trolling the Web in search of a nubile young girlfriend, and had developed a
schoolboy crush on Miss Loginova.
The panel that emerged from voir dire was ideal for the
prosecution’s theory of the case, which could have been the plot from any of
several dozen made-for-TV movies of the kind broadcast incessantly on the “Lifetime” cable
network: The scheming, unfaithful husband, driven by ego and what remains of his mid-life libido, plots to murder his long-suffering wife in order to take up with a
pneumatic trophy bimbo.
Edgar Steele is a widely despised figure. His legal practice was devoted to defending the rights of similarly marginalized and disreputable people out of the conviction that “it is the … politically incorrect whose rights are first infringed and then eliminated,” as he pointed out in a speech he delivered in Jekyll Island, Georgia almost exactly two years before his Stalinist show trial in Boise.
Actually, the comparison to the Soviet-era Russian legal system is unfair, given that a defendant hauled before a Soviet criminal tribunal actually enjoyed a small but measurable chance of acquittal.
After the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the jury system — which had been
established under Alexander II in 1864 — was abolished and replaced
with”People’s Courts” composed of a judge and a panel of two to six Party-appointed “assessors” who heard all of the evidence and decided all questions of both fact and law. The assessors “became known as `nodders’ for simply nodding in agreement with the judge,” wrote federal Judge John C. Coughenour in an article published by the Seattle University Law Review. “People’s assessors virtually always agreed with judges; acquittals were virtually nonexistent…. [U]nlike our adversarial system, the Soviet inquisitorial criminal justice system neither prioritized nor emphasized the rights of individual defendants, but instead paid homage to the interests of the state.”