Update: Cyndi Steele was allowed to meet privately with her husband before the defense rested its case at midday without Edgar Steele taking the stand. The case was expected to go to the jury after the reading of jury instructions and closing arguments.
As early as today, a federal jury in Idaho will begin determining the fate of Edgar Steele, a volatile attorney who represented leading racists before becoming an anti-Semitic writer, lecturer and icon of the radical right.
During his two-week criminal trial in Boise, Idaho, federal prosecutors used witnesses to depict Steele as the mastermind behind a failed pipe bomb-murder plot aimed at his wife and her mother. He is accused of hiring Larry Fairfax, a handyman-turned-hitman-turned-FBI-informant, who actually planted a pipe bomb on Cyndi Steele’s car without telling his FBI handlers.
The murder plot allegedly was hatched while the 65-year-old Steele used Skype from his North Idaho horse ranch for Internet trysts with a young Ukrainian woman, described as his girlfriend by investigators. In videotaped testimony from the Ukraine, the 25-year-old woman recalled conversations about lovemaking and having babies once Steele’s wife was out of the picture.
Defense attorneys argued that all that was nothing more than Steele’s academic interest in human trafficking — a “Russian bride scam” that Steele was researching for a book — and the murder plot actually was concocted entirely by Fairfax after he stole silver from the Steele home. Cyndi Steele has backed up her husband’s version of events.
Defense attorney Robert McAllister also attempted to convince the jury that secret FBI recordings detailing the murder-for-hire plot involving Fairfax and Steele were somehow altered by the FBI — an allegation flatly denied by the prosecution.
But McAllister didn’t subpoena his own audio expert, George Papcun, to back up the claim the recordings were altered. Papcun was vacationing in the French Pacific island of Bora Bora and unavailable to testify in person on Tuesday, when the judge denied a defense request to delay the trial.
In a posting on the “Free Edgar Steele” website, Cyndi Steele wrote late Tuesday that the defense team couldn’t get Papcun to Boise by commercial planes and it would have cost $120,000 for a chartered jet. “Unfortunately the window of time to make such arrangements was not long enough and the opportunity to have [our] audio expert, Dr. George Papcun, testify has been lost,’’ Cyndi Steele said in her posting.
She didn’t explain why the defense team didn’t subpoena the audio expert, requiring his presence at the trial, before he left on vacation. But she did ask her husband’s supporters to “pray that no one else has to go through what we have been put through by our government.”
She gave no hint as to whether or not her husband will be the last defense witness, taking the stand in his own defense. If he doesn’t, there will be closing arguments today, followed by the reading of jury instructions before jurors get the case.
Steele’s 20-year-old daughter, Kesley Steele, and his wife, both testified for the defense in the trial that was moved to Boise from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Kesley Steele told the jury she recognized her father’s voice on the tape recordings, but said that wasn’t the way he talks.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan asked Kelsey Steele if it was true she didn’t want to believe that her father wanted her mother killed. “Of course I don’t want to, and I don’t,” was her reply, according to the Spokesman-Review newspaper.
For her part, Cyndi Steele testified that she doesn’t believe for a minute he intended to kill her, alleging instead that he was framed by the federal government.
While questioning Cyndi Steele, defense attorney McAllister brought up the fact that Edgar Steele represented the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations and its late founder Richard Butler in a successful 2000 civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The suit, based on an attack by Aryan Nations guard on a woman and her son, resulted in a $6.3 million judgment against the group based in northern Idaho and Butler.
Prosecutors objected to mention of the Aryan Nations, but U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill allowed the testimony.
Cyndi Steele testified that her husband had represented “unpopular causes,” including the Aryan Nations, and said her family has received death threats, the Spokane newspaper reported. She also testified that she was helping her husband investigate a “Russian mail-order bride scam.”
Cyndi Steele testified that E-mails her husband sent to Russian women were “cyber-space fantasy.’’ She said her husband was an “excellent writer” capable of sounding like “a love-sick teenager.”
Cyndi Steele made no mention of her husband’s other writings — anti-Semitic tirades and essays posted on various extremist websites in the wake of the Aryan Nations trial. He entitled kind of coming-out essay in 2002 “It’s the Jews, Stupid!!!’’ and also suggested in another that a government conspiracy was behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The jury, composed almost entirely of women, heard testimony that in one E-mail Edgar Steele told his Ukrainian girl friend that the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-racist Jewish organization, “manufactured the recordings of him” plotting to kill his wife. “This has been a huge shock to me but not really a surprise; they have been after me for a long time because of my outspoken criticism” of the federal government and U.S. power brokers, Steele wrote Loginova.
FBI Special Agent Brent Smith, currently based in the Ukraine, read the E-mail to Loginova, who declined to travel to the United States, but gave prosecutors a videotaped deposition in early March.
In the deposition, Loginova, speaking through a translator, said she met Steele through an online dating website, exchanged E-mails and learned about his personal life, the Spokane newspaper reported. Steele wrote that Loginova could “take care of our babies, make love to me, whatever would make you happy.”
“Did he ever tell you if he had kids?” federal prosecutor Whelan asked the young Ukrainian woman. “Yes, he did,” Loginova responded through a translator. “[He] told me that they don’t live with him though. He told me that he lives alone.”
Steele planned to travel to Ukraine to visit her in August 2010, but was arrested two months earlier. In one message, Steele promised to mail Loginova a teddy bear he named “Eddie Bear.” But she never got the gift after his arrest because his “ex-wife” never mailed it.
Even behind bars, Steele continued to profess his love for the Ukrainian woman via letters, the jury was told. The Coeur d’Alene Press reported that in one, Steele wrote: “I miss you so much. I seem to dream about you every night. I found myself daydreaming about you being near me. It has been nearly three weeks since we last saw each other via Skype.”