Trooper recounts delivery of death notification

Authorities used move to gauge reaction of Steele

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BOISE - Idaho State Trooper Jess Spike said death notifications are one of the more "sacred things we do."

And in the two dozen he's been part of delivering, those on the receiving end usually have one of two reactions: They either lash out in anger and disbelief or they collapse.

On June 11 of last year, he delivered a death notification at 1569 Talache Road, in Sagle, the home of Edgar J. Steele and his wife Cyndi Steele.

Spike said Edgar Steele was told his wife had been killed in a car accident, though it wasn't true. Authorities were testing Steele, to see his reaction to the news, Spike said.

Steele's reaction didn't include either lashing out or collapsing, the trooper testified Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boise in Steele's murder-for-hire trial.

"It was flat," Spike said. "It appeared he was trying to develop tears, (but) none developed."

Spike said officers were acting under the direction of FBI special Agent Mike Sotka, who had been investigating the case. Sotka wanted to see if Steele carried out plans, for after the death of his wife, he had allegedly discussed with handyman-turned-hitman Larry Fairfax.

Steele asked if anyone was with her in the vehicle, Spike said. Federal prosecutors have said Steele allegedly wanted both his wife and mother-in-law killed.

She was alone, he was told. It happened near Oregon City, Ore., where Cyndi Steele's mother lives.

"We told him that it appeared her car had been run off the road, and there had been an eyewitness," Spike said.

Sotka, who also was at the death notification, told Steele that a man named Larry Fairfax had been contacted. Fairfax was believed to have run her off the road, but had then gotten into an accident himself.

"He seemed somewhat surprised at this point," Spike said. "It was a more genuine reaction."

Steele said he knew Larry Fairfax, who had done work at their home.

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But Steele said his wife had the majority of the contact with Fairfax, Spike said.

Sotka and the others then dropped another bomb. His mother-in-law had been shot dead.

Steele's response to that was, "(Expletive) me!," Spike recalled.

Steele expressed some serious disbelief at that revelation, Spike said.

Then Steele, who has had serious heart problems and surgeries, got more bad news. Sotka received a call from Oregon, where it was reported Fairfax was regaining consciousness following his accident.

Fairfax reportedly told officers on scene that Steele could explain everything, Spike said.

Steele had no response to that, Spike said.

Sotka then revealed the truth, Steele's wife was fine, and investigators were on to the alleged plot.

Steele was arrested and Spike took him to Kootenai County jail.

In his cross examination of the trooper, Steele's defense attorney, Robert T. McAllister pointed out, "This whole ruse was to see him crack" and admit to the alleged plot. Steele didn't do that, McAllister said. Spike agreed.

Steele is facing decades in prison if he's found guilty of the charges related to the alleged plot. A jury of 11 women and one man will begin hearing evidence for a third day today.

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