A northern Idaho attorney who once represented the Aryan Nations was found guilty Thursday on all counts tied to his plot to hire a hit man to kill his wife and mother-in-law last year.
The verdict prompted the woman who is both Edgar Steele's alleged victim and staunchest supporter _ wife Cyndi _ to angrily decry the federal government and vow to immediately start work on an appeal.
"This is the most devastating thing I have ever had happen in my life," she said outside Boise's U.S. District Court, shaking and crying.
The federal jury of 11 women and one man deliberated for fewer than eight hours before finding Steele guilty of use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission for murder for hire, possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim. He faces at least 30 years and up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Aug. 22.
During the trial, federal prosecutors played recordings that they said contained the voices of Steele and Larry Fairfax, the man Steele was accused of offering $25,000 in exchange for the murders.
Prosecutors said Steele wanted the women dead so he could collect on an uninsured motorist insurance policy and be free to pursue a relationship with a woman from Ukraine.
Neither his wife nor his mother-in-law was harmed, but employees of an auto shop found a pipe bomb strapped underneath Cyndi Steele's car.
Prosecutors said Fairfax tipped off federal investigators about the scheme.
Steele's defense attorneys, along with his supporters, maintained the audio recordings were fakes.
His attorney, Gary Amendola, said an appeal was imminent. He complained about pretrial rulings made by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill that Amendola claimed prevented testimony about the authenticity of the recordings from a critical expert witness and a full and effective defense.
One audio expert that Steele's defense team had hired wasn't available to testify during the trial because he was reportedly vacationing in Bora Bora. The defense team opted not to have him subpoenaed, which would have required the expert to appear in court.
Steele had a large circle of advocates who argued his innocence on Internet blogs and YouTube videos. During the seven-day trial, the courtroom was full of Steele supporters.
When U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill asked Steele to stand to hear the verdict, his wife and daughter Kelsey Steele stood as well.
U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said that she and the other federal prosecutors on the case extend their sympathy and empathy to Cyndi Steele and her family. Olson also stressed that there was no government conspiracy targeting Edgar Steele, as the family has claimed.
She said none of the investigators and prosecutors who worked the case had ever even heard of Steele before Fairfax walked into a northern Idaho FBI office to report the murder plot.
"Edgar Steele chose to target himself when he offered money to Larry Fairfax for the murder of his wife," Olson said.
Steele is well known in anti-Semitic and white supremacist circles as the attorney who defended Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center 11 years ago. The center brought the case on behalf of two people who claimed they were attacked by Aryan Nations security guards; Steele lost the case, and the white supremacist group was bankrupted by the $6.3 million damages awarded to the victims.
In the years since that case, Steele has made speeches at white supremacist events and launched the website ConspiracyPenPal.com, where he published his views. He also wrote a book titled "Defensive Racism: An Unapologetic Examination of Racial Differences."
Rebecca Boone can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/boiseboone