Crime

Dispatcher asked man accused of killing wife why he did it. ‘We’re literally flat broke.’

Ada County prosecutors met the burden of probable cause after numerous people testified at a two-hour preliminary hearing in a first-degree murder case out of Meridian, a judge ruled Tuesday. The case will proceed to trial.

Christine Steiner, 41, of Meridian, was found dead on the floor of her master bathroom March 5, after police say her husband, Eric Steiner, called 911 to report that he had killed his wife. She died of a gunshot wound to her head from a 9 mm gun, according to the Ada County coroner and police.

Eric James Steiner, 42, was taken into police custody at their house in the 500 block of East Chateau Drive, according to Meridian police officer testimony at the hearing at the Ada County Courthouse.

He’s being held at the Ada County Jail on $2 million bond.

At the hearing, Judge Russell Comstock said prosecutors provided enough evidence against Steiner for the case to proceed to trial in 4th District Court.

The first person who testified was 911 dispatcher Cara Wardle, who took a call from a man who identified himself as Eric Steiner and reported shooting his wife to death. All 911 calls are recorded, and prosecutors played the call in court.

After asking the caller his address and phone number, Wardle asked him why he was calling.

“I killed my wife,” the man said. He added that he planned to kill the kids, but he couldn’t do it.

The Steiners have a 4-year-old son. A 17-year-old exchange student also was living with them.

In the 911 recording, the man said the children did not witness the shooting. He said he picked the younger child up at day care and the teenager at lacrosse practice after the fatal shooting. He told the dispatcher that Christine Steiner was diabetic, and that he told the children she was sleeping.

The dispatcher asked more than once why he shot his wife in the 911 call, which was about 6 minutes long.

“It was spur of the moment,” he states in the recording. “We’re literally flat broke. We’re in debt like almost $100,000.”

He said they were supposed to pay rent that day.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

Eric Steiner told a detective his wife was upset with him because he had been smoking. He also told police he worked as a contractor and was also stressed about making rent, Meridian Police Detective Jeremy Churchfield testified in court.

He told the dispatcher he was unarmed, wasn’t going to hurt anybody and was waiting outside for police. She told him to empty his pockets and to raise the hand that wasn’t holding the phone.

Once police arrived, she told him to put both hands in the air.

“Do exactly as they say,” she said.

Churchfield testified that Eric Steiner confessed to killing his wife during an interview at the police station.

Churchfield said Steiner told him where all his guns were in his house and vehicle, including the one he said he used to kill his wife. He said that one was on a bench right inside the front door, Churchfield recalled in court.

Steiner also told the detective he had three guns in the console of his pickup truck, and two guns in the closet of the master bedroom (an AR-15 and .38-caliber gun).

The detective said Steiner told him he tried to kill her with a crowbar as she got out of the shower — because it was quieter — but that didn’t work.

Churchfield said Steiner described killing his wife in a very matter-of-fact way, showing no signs of regret or remorse. He said he played a game on his phone before picking up the kids, Churchfield said.

Police received the 911 call at about 9:15 p.m. Churchfield said Steiner told him that he decided to kill his wife around noon and actually did it at about 3:30 p.m.

Dr. Garth Warren, a forensic pathologist, testified that Christine Steiner’s forehead showed evidence of blunt force trauma, and she had bruising on her leg. He said a bullet entered near her right eye and exited through her scalp.

Steiner’s next hearing will be at 9 a.m. June 13 before Judge Samuel Hoagland.

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