COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The trial of former Aryan Nations attorney Edgar Steele was postponed and moved from North Idaho to Boise on Monday by a federal judge who earlier was steadfast in refusing additional delays.
Steele, 65, faces four federal charges in an alleged failed plot to hire a hit man to murder his wife, Cyndi Steele, and her mother last year.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge B. Linn Winmill refused a request from defense attorneys Robert T. McAllister and Gary Amendola to delay Steele’s trial for a third time.
But on Monday, after 70 prospective jurors were called to the U.S. Courthouse in Coeur d’Alene, the judge granted another request from the defense team after Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marc Haws and Traci Whelan said the government did not object to another delay.
While winning a delay in the trial until April 26 and the change of venue, the judge rejected a defense request to bar the government from using secret FBI tape recordings made between Steele and alleged hit man Larry Andrew Fairfax.
Those tape recordings — where Steele reportedly says he wanted the murder to be successful because he doesn’t want to care for a paraplegic — and testimony from Fairfax appear to be the backbone of the prosecution’s case.
The judge deferred ruling Monday on a government motion to exclude testimony from defense audio expert George Papcun. Court filings from the defense attorneys suggest they will use Papcun in an attempt to bolster their theory that the digital tape recordings were altered in some manner.
Federal prosecutors say the digital recordings were not edited. In their argument to block testimony from Papcun, the prosecutors say he was added as a last-minute expert witnesses — after motion-filing deadlines and after the defense apparently abandoned an earlier strategy to use medical doctors to argue to the jury that Steele was suffering from a mental disease or defect at the time of the alleged crime.
Federal investigators contend Steele, who made a $10,000 down payment with silver coins, promised to pay Fairfax $125,000 to kill Cyndi Steele while she visited her mother in Oregon.
The FBI found out about the murder-for-hire plot when Fairfax, a 49-year-old handyman who had worked for the Steeles, contacted authorities last summer.
Just days later, when Cyndi Steele returned to North Idaho, a pipe bomb was found taped to the undercarriage of her late model SUV during an oil change. Fairfax, who had not told authorities about that pipe bomb, was then charged with two federal firearms counts and has entered guilty pleas.
The judge previously denied a change of venue request when the Steele’s defense team argued to move the trial to Wyoming. Winmell said he would allow questioning of prospective jurors to begin before deciding whether pre-trial media coverage had adversely affected the possibility of getting an impartial jury.
He didn’t elaborate Monday in deciding to move the trial to Boise, in southern Idaho, where he hears the majority of his federal caseload.