Idaho lawyer gets 50 years in wife's murder plot

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2011 5:52 PM
Idaho lawyer gets 50 years in wife's murder plot

An Idaho attorney who once represented the white supremacist Aryan Nations group was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in federal prison in the failed plot to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

Edgar J. 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, prosecutors said. He paid $10,000 in silver to another Idaho man who agreed to kill the women, authorities said.

The would-be hit man, Larry Fairfax, testified during Steele's trial that he accepted the silver because he was desperate for money, but never intended to carry out the plan.

Steele, 66, was convicted in May. He was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Coeur d'Alene.

Steele, who represented Aryan Nations and founder Richard Butler during the 2000 trial that bankrupted the hate group, has always denied trying to kill his wife, and Cyndi Steele continues to support him. He told the court Wednesday he was the victim of a government conspiracy because of his political views. He demanded that the judge release him immediately.

"There is no justice today in America for the politically incorrect," Steele told Winmill. "I am a political prisoner."

Winmill and U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson both said there was no such conspiracy.

"Through his conduct, including his attempts to influence a witness, Mr. Steele earned every month in prison to which the district court sentenced him," Olson said in a statement.

Fairfax, 50, confessed to attaching a pipe bomb to Cyndi Steele's vehicle, but said he rigged it so it wouldn't go off. It was discovered when she stopped for an oil change shortly after her husband's arrest. An explosives expert said it could have detonated.

Fairfax, who worked for Steele and his wife at their ranch for years, went to the FBI and agreed to carry a hidden recording device to capture conversations about the plot between the two men at Steele's home. Steele was arrested June 11, 2010 _ the day prosecutors said he believed the hit on his wife would be carried out.

In one recorded conversation, Steele told Fairfax he was upset with his wife, "but I don't want her to suffer and I don't want her to realize, as the lights are going out, what's happened."

Steele thought he could get away with murder because he believed his clean record and long career as an attorney would allow him to escape suspicion, prosecutors said.

Steele and his wife dominated the sentencing hearing, each reading lengthy statements alleging a government conspiracy to get Edgar Steele. The judge allowed each plenty of time, but ended up cutting them both off when the statements became repetitive and included personal attacks on court employees.

"We have a great marriage," Cyndi Steele told the judge.

"I am not a victim of my husband because my husband did nothing wrong," she said. "I am a victim of the government."

The Steeles both contended that Fairfax planted the bomb on his own.

Steele is well known in anti-Semitic and white supremacist circles as the attorney who defended Butler in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The human rights group 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.

Butler moved to northern Idaho in the 1970s and bought a 20-acre parcel that served as headquarters for Aryan Nations. He held annual gatherings that drew hundreds of supporters from around the country.

Butler's group also held summertime marches through downtown Coeur d'Alene, and some of his followers fanned out to commit violent crimes across the country. A handful of people in the area continue to call themselves Aryan Nations members, but the group is largely inactive.

In the years since that case, Steele has made speeches at white supremacist events and launched the website, where he published his views. He also wrote a book titled "Defensive Racism: An Unapologetic Examination of Racial Differences."

Fairfax earlier was convicted of possession of an unregistered firearm and manufacturing a firearm for his role in the plot. He was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.