Expert: Pipe bomb 'lethal'

Bomb squad supervisor says device was largest he has seen

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BOISE - Fifty-year-old Larry Fairfax, attorney Edgar J. Steele's handyman turned alleged hired hitman, has said time and again the bomb he manufactured and attached under Steele's wife's SUV was designed not to go off.

Brennan Phillips, an explosives enforcement officer and expert with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the bomb could have gone off in his testimony Friday in the murder-for-hire trial of Steele, 65, in U.S. District Court in Boise.

Fairfax, of Sagle, has said the fuse to the massive pipe bomb would have fizzled out after being blocked by electrical tape, preventing the explosive material inside from being unleashed. Phillips said the pyrotechnic fuse would have burned right through the tape.

He said the bomb Fairfax placed on her vehicle would have been "lethal," causing "life-threatening injuries" to any occupants, but also to others on the road.

Fairfax has said he broke the fuse in multiple places. Phillips, however, showed jurors how two

fuses ran back to the exhaust system, the device's source for ignition, providing "redundancy." He also showed jurors the two lengths of fuse weren't severed, but were just damaged in spots. He said the fuses were strong and still would have done the job.

He said he found discolored areas on the fuses where they had been in contact with the hot exhaust system, explaining they were nearly ignited. Cyndi Steele, her husband's alleged primary target along with her mother, drove around for roughly two weeks with the device attached under her vehicle, on the driver's side. At times traveling between Sagle and the Portland area.

Fairfax is to be sentenced in federal court for the pipe bomb, which was a footlong galvanized pipe, loaded with gun powder. Fairfax only admitted in a plea agreement that the device he made could have gone off.

The pipe had open space inside, which would have provided for "optimal performance," Phillips said.

Expert Mike Kittilstved, bomb squad supervisor for Spokane County, testified that galvanized pipe is the most dangerous because of the metal's characteristic "fragmentation" upon exploding.

"It's the largest pipe bomb I've seen, that I've ever dealt with in the field," he said.

The Spokane bomb squad was called out to respond when the device was discovered under Cyndi Steele's vehicle on June 15, a few days after her husband's arrest. It was spotted during an oil change at a business near U.S. 95 and Bosanko Avenue.

Fairfax had gone to the FBI about Edgar Steele's alleged murder-for-hire plot, but neglected to mention the bomb he had already placed under her SUV.

Fairfax testified earlier in the trial that he thought the pipe bomb had fallen off, so he didn't tell the FBI about it.

He said that after he drove to Oregon City, Ore., with his cousin, Jim Maher, to check on the device, Maher didn't see it still attached. Since he didn't believe it was there anymore, he figured there was no point in mentioning it, Fairfax testified.

Fairfax said Steele ordered him to make that trip to Oregon, where Cyndi Steele was visiting her mother, to figure out why the pipe bomb hadn't gone off.

Fairfax cooperated as an informant, helping the FBI acquire secret recordings of Edgar Steele allegedly ordering the hit.

The bomb Fairfax made was shown to jurors Friday, along with the fuses. They also saw a picture of the bomb in place under Cyndi Steele's vehicle, a shot captured by a lube tech with his cell phone.

The trial continues Monday morning, when the government is expected to rest its case.

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