Edgar Steele, the “attorney for the damned” who unsuccessfully defended the Aryan Nations in a landmark civil suit, has died in federal prison in California where he was serving a 50-year term for a plot to murder his wife. Steele was 69.
Word of his death initially was posted on the “Free Edgar Steele” web site, headed by his wife, Cyndi Steele, who refused to believe that her husband hired a handyman in a foiled car bomb plot in 2010.
The website post, written by an unidentified “administrator” for the Edgar Steele Legal Defense Fund, alleged he had been “murdered," the latest in a list of accusations Steele and his antigovernment supporters have fired at what they call the “corrupt federal government.”
Steele’s death was confirmed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which lists Edgar James Steele, prisoner number 14226-023, as “deceased on 9-4-14.” He died at the U.S. Penitentiary at Victorville, Calif., a prison for 1,400 high-profile inmates, located 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Cyndi Steele learned of her husband’s death Thursday afternoon when she received a phone call from a mortuary which had taken the body, the Free Edgar Steele site said.
“Based on the best knowledge at hand, the following are the most likely causes of death: overmedication, persistently delayed, insufficient or improper medical treatment, medical neglect,” the posting said.
“First, Mr. Steele was the victim of a false prosecution, then he was imprisoned in the most dangerous prison here in America,” the posting said.
“Then his wife was never allowed to visit him despite a court order allowing visitation. Then, his health was compromised because of neglect, and finally, the reports came in that he had been drugged out of his mind earlier this week, which was the final blow that killed him. Call it anything else you like, but it is murder.”
Steele not only defended Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations, he personally embraced many of its white separatist, racist ideologies. He moved to North Idaho in the 1990s from Northern California where he had practiced law after serving in the U.S. Navy. A slight man with a strident, outspoken personality, Steele identified himself as a white separatist and an “attorney for the damned.” He vociferously voiced his racist, antigovernment views on a blog, called “Conspiracy Penpal.”
Although unsuccessful in defending Butler and the Aryan Nations, that connection rocketed him to prominence nationally in racist and extremist circles. He appeared as a guest speaker at Aryanfest 2005 and showed up at a “unity conference” headed by former KKK leader David Duke. Steele also spoke at an Institute for Historical Review conference where Holocaust deniers gathered. After her husband was sentenced to 50 years in prison, Cyndi Steele continued to speak out publicly in her husband’s defense, selling T-shirts in a vain attempt to win her husband’s release.
Last October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Steele’s 2011 federal jury conviction, rejecting his claim that improper jury instructions and judicial errors led to his conviction. Two months later, Steele filed a malpractice suit in Ada County, Idaho, contending he received inadequate legal representation in the murder-for-hire-plot trial.
Steele complained his trial defense was impaired specifically by the malpractice of Robert McAllister, of Denver, who was convicted of separate fraud charges and disbarred one month after Steele’s conviction.
Steele was hired by Butler after the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a civil suit on behalf of two people who were assaulted by armed men from the Aryan compound. In 2000, a jury in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, returned a $6.3 million damages award, leading to the bankruptcy and eventual demolition of the 20-acre Aryan compound near Hayden Lake, Idaho. Butler died in 2004.