Panthers: Nebraska Supreme Court Ignores COINTELPRO and Conflicting Police Testimony in ‘Omaha Two’ Case
June 19, 2009
The Nebraska Supreme Court has denied Edward Poindexter a new trial for the 1970 bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard. Poindexter and co-defendant Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) were convicted in an April 1971 trial for the ambush murder of Minard.
Unknown to the jury hearing the case, a secret operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation code-named Operation COINTELPO had targeted Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa because of their role as leaders of Omaha’s chapter of the Black Panthers.
When news of the Omaha bombing reached FBI headquarters the director, J. Edgar Hoover, gave orders to withhold a laboratory report of the 911 hotline recording which captured the voice of Minard’s killer who lured police to a vacant house where a bomb waited.
A 15 year-old, Duane Peak, would confess to planting the bomb and making the 911 call. However, COINTELRO agents, led by Asst. FBI director William Sullivan, were under orders from Hoover to be “imaginative” in getting the two Panther leaders.
Threats of execution, a lenient sentence, and special conditions in custody brought Peak around to claiming the ‘Omaha Two’ leaders of the Black Panthers were behind the crime. Dynamite was purportedly found in Mondo’s basement and the two men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The jury would never hear the 911 call and did not know the voice on the recording would one day be tested with sophisticated equipment that ruled out Peak as the caller leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose.
The 911 recording, kept from the jury, and conflicting dynamite testimony by Omaha Police detectives were key elements of Poindexter’s request for a new trial. After deliberating on the request for half a year the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a 22-page decision denying the request without once mentioning COINTELPRO and J. Edgar Hoover’s secret order to not issue a lab report.
The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union submitted an amicus brief outlining COINTELPRO and the rigging of other trials against Black Panther members around the nation. The appellate record also contained COINTELPRO documents detailing the targeting of both Poindexter and Mondo we Langa as well as the secret memos to withhold the laboratory report on the 911 recording.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that “even assuming” the voice of the killer making the 911 call was not that of Duane Peak a new trial was not justified.
“Lt. James Perry, the head of the investigation for the Minard slaying, testified in a 1980 deposition that he was unaware of any request to have the tape tested but that he recalled discussion of the possibility before the police department knew who had made the call. Perry testified that once Peak admitted to making the 911 call, the department considered the tape of that call a relatively worthless piece of evidence.”
The conflicting trial and post-trial testimony of detectives Jack Swanson and Robert Pheffer, where they each took turns claiming discovery of dynamite in Mondo we Langa’s basement, was dismissed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Swanson, who had custody of unaccounted for dynamite in an unrelated case, purportedly found dynamite in the basement, first in a coal bin and later near the furnace. Pheffer, who at trial said he never even went into the basement, would tell an Omaha judge in 2007 that he was the first person down and he found the dynamite not Swanson.
The Nebraska Supreme Court dismissed this crucial conflicting testimony about dynamite with one paragraph out of the 22 page decision and did not mention Pheffer’s post-trial version of the dynamite discovery at all.
“At trial, Swanson testified that he found dynamite in Rice’s basement and that Pfeffer was also in the basement when the dynamite was found. Pheffer, on the other hand, testified at trial that he never went to the basement and that he did not see the dynamite until Swanson carried it up from the basement. Trial counsel did not spend time exploring who was really in the basement when the dynamite was found, and this was reasonable given that the particulars of who found the dynamite and who was with that person at the time are relatively insignificant.”
An appeal to the federal court system is expected. Meanwhile Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa continue to remain in maximum-security cells, imprisoned for a crime they continue to deny any guilt. Duane Peak, the confessed killer, got his deal and served 33 months in juvenile detention before walking free. The unknown 911 caller, who lured Minard to his death, has never been identified and was never charged for the murder.