A Center Moriches man admitted Friday that he killed his estranged wife in October 2008 by poisoning her with cyanide.

David Steeves, 45, pleaded guilty in a Riverhead court to second-degree murder in the midst of jury selection for his trial. He is expected to be sentenced to 19 years to life in prison July 19.

His wife, Maureen Steeves, 41, of Manorville, died Oct. 31, 2008, after being taken off life support about two weeks after she fell ill from swallowing the cyanide-laced capsules that police said her husband had ordered over the Internet.

The couple were separated and getting a divorce when Maureen Steeves went to her husband's home, which she did daily, to make sure their two sons had a meal and clean clothes, her relatives said Friday after David Steeves' guilty plea.

When she complained of a headache, her husband, a plumber, gave her two cyanide capsules, saying they were Tylenol, said David Steeves' attorney, Craig McElwee of North Babylon.

Police and prosecutors said he found information on cyanide in a terrorism handbook.

McElwee said Steeves had purchased potassium cyanide to kill himself, then "chickened out" and gave it to his wife.

Steeves agreed to enter the guilty plea before State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle after prosecutors assured him that his two sons, now 15 and 17, would not be in court Friday or when he is sentenced, McElwee said.

"He doesn't want them to see him admit to what he admitted to," McElwee said outside court. The sons are being reared by Maureen Steeves' relatives.

Steeves confessed after his arrest, saying he had told his wife he was gay, but that he didn't want to see her with anyone else, Suffolk County police said at the time. But he recanted, and a defense lawyer claiming investigators had forced Steeves to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Joseph Terrusa, Maureen Steeves' brother, said his sister's dedication to her children led her to continue seeing David Steeves even after she left their home. "She cared for her kids, and that's why she was at the house that day," Terrusa said.

He said she also had supported Steeves when he served a few years in prison in the mid-1980s for attempted burglary.She remained with him after she learned he was gay and discovered him wearing her clothes, said Terrusa and his aunt, Sandy Berardina.

Berardina described Maureen Steeves as "one of the best nieces."

Debra Russo, of Shirley, a friend, said, "She liked everybody, and everybody liked her."

As doctors tried to save Maureen Steeves' life, David Steeves fled to England with their sons.

Federal marshals traced his escape route to Manchester, England, then he fled to Florida, authorities said.

Steeves then flew back to Kennedy Airport, where marshals arrested him on Oct. 28, 2008, three days before Maureen Steeves died.

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