Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ten Years In Prison for a Birthday Card

Steele may have violated order

Murder-for-hire suspect allegedly sent birthday card to his wife from jail

COEUR d'ALENE - Prosecutors say a birthday card mailed from jail by Edgar J. Steele, likely to his wife at their home near Sagle, is a possible violation of a court-ordered no-contact order. The card included the handwritten line: "Never, in a million years, would I do anything to knowingly harm you."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci J. Whelan filed documents in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene to notify the court of the birthday card.

"It appears to the United States this is not only a violation of the court's no-contact order, but another blatant attempt by the defendant to persuade his wife (Cyndi Steele) to do whatever is necessary to help him," Whelan wrote.

Edgar Steele, a 65-year-old attorney who has handled multiple high-profile trials, is charged with allegedly hiring someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law and make it look like an automobile accident. Steele has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say they have audio recordings of Steele hiring a hitman to get the job done. The recordings were made with the help of the hitman-turned-informant who wore a hidden recording device in secret meetings with Steele.

A trial is set for Nov. 1 in front of Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Coeur d'Alene.

Steele's attorney, Roger Peven, couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday about the birthday card.

In the card, Edgar Steele writes: "How do I begin to say I'm sorry for being the reason that all this has befallen our family. I know how to say 'I love you.' Though they won't let me say it, they can't stop me from loving you ... nor you from loving me, of course - which I hope you still do, sweetheart."

Prosecutors received a copy of the letter sent by Steele from the Spokane County Jail, where he's being held. The card was sent out last month, and Cyndi Steele's birthday is July 29, court documents say.

The envelope was addressed to Kelsey Steele, Edgar Steele's daughter.

But, prosecutors say, "The handwritten message is indicative of what a husband might write to his wife."

Inside the card, Steele writes: "Do whatever it takes to be able to stand by my side and to continue to be my partner in life."

And, "With all of my heart, happy birthday, my love."

A copy of the birthday card and envelope were filed in court documents last week.

Two days after Steele was arrested June 11, Steele was recorded making phone calls from Kootenai County jail to his son and wife, instructing them that Cyndi Steele must tell authorities that the voice of the man ordering the hit isn't her husband's.

Prosecutors played the jail-house calls to his wife and son from June 13 during a court hearing on June 22.

"No matter what you hear, no matter what you think, no matter what you feel, you have to say the following: 'No, that is not my husband's voice,'" Steele told his wife. "Then, like a rhinoceros in the road, you have to stand your ground and refuse to say anything but that."

Steele was indicted June 15 on a charge of murder-for-hire, and at that time the court granted a motion by prosecutors to establish a no-contact order to prevent Steele from communicating with his wife.

Late last month, prosecutors added against Steele the charges of tampering with a witness (because of the jail-house phone calls to his wife), use of explosive material, and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence. A large pipe bomb was found under Cyndi Steele's vehicle during an oil change in June. Steele has pleaded not guilty to those additional charges as well.

Winmill approved a monitored jail-house visit between Steele and his wife, to discuss "common property and interests, as well as financial issues related to their children."

On Aug. 11, Winmill approved the meeting, but set multiple ground rules. The Steeles would not be permitted to exchange notes or other documents and they could not discuss the case against Edgar Steele or anything related to it. And Peven would have to record the entire meeting.

A day after the meeting was approved by the court, prosecutors got copies of Steele's mail. It was unclear Monday whether the meeting has taken place or will still take place.

Whelan couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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