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Framed by the FBI: A dozen reasons the 'Omaha Two' deserve a new trial (6 of 6)

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Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) appealed his murder conviction for the bombing death of policeman Larry Minard.  While Mondo didn't get relief from the state court system he found an impartial judge in federal court.


U. S. District Court Judge Warren Urbom heard Mondo's appeal for violations of his 4th Amendment rights.  After listening to testimony from a police lieutenant, James Perry, Judge Urbom rejected Perry's account of events and found that Mondo we Langa's civil rights were indeed violated by Omaha police.


"Therefore, it is the holding of this court that the police were not rightfully on the premises of David Rice on the night of August 22, 1970, and thus all of the evidence obtained by the search of the house that night was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment and should not have been received into evidence at petitioner's criminal trial."


Judge Urbom ruled, "Therefore, the petitioner must either be released from custody or granted a new trial free of the tainted evidence."


The prosecution appealed and a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reviewed Urbom's decision to grant a new trial.  The federal appellate judges examined carefully the police justification for entering Mondo's residence without a proper warrant.


"In fact, the testimony of the various police officers at the evidentiary hearing held before the district court strongly suggests that the police had no evidence whatever that Peak was at petitioner's house and that they were acting on nothing more than a hunch or random guess."


As for Perry's version of events, the three-judge panel was abrupt.  "After reviewing the record, we find that Judge Urbom's decision to discredit this particular testimony was amply supported by the record."


"Moreover, testimony before Judge Urbom suggests that the purpose of searching for explosives was an afterthought conceived after the police arrived at the house, rather than an urgent emergency, and that they decided to apply for a warrant to search for explosives in the petitioner's house only because they had not discovered dynamite in any of the other locations they had searched earlier in the day."

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"We consider it necessary to point out that the record discloses a widespread search for the suspects Peak and Poindexter which evinced at least a negligent disregard by the Omaha police for the constitutional rights of not only petitioner but possibly other citizens as well."


The appellate court ordered Mondo we Langa to be freed or retried, bringing the total to four federal judges that closely examined the case and ordered a new trial.


The prosecution appealed to the United States Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case consolidating it with another murder case, Stone v. Powell.  Unfortunately for Mondo we Langa the careful scrutiny of the facts of his case was over.  Mondo was now just a pressure point in an effort to roll back civil liberty decisions of the Warren Court.

Time magazine called the case, "important" and described the jockeying of the justices in the campaign over rights of criminal defendants.  Authors Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong discuss the case in their book, The Brethren. 

"To Burger [Chief Justice Warren Burger], these seemed perfect cases: two murderers were trying to overturn their convictions by raising technical Fourth Amendment claims.  After the highest states had rejected their claims, the men had appealed to the federal courts.  Under the Constitution, any state prisoner has a right to petition the federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus, which required the state to show that the imprisonment did not violate the federal Constitution."

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"Burger had long wanted to cut off habeas petitions on Fourth Amendment claims.  He believed they were almost always frivolous, and they clogged the federal courts.  To preclude such petitions--and to overrule an important Warren Court precedent--would be a major victory."


The Supreme Court refused to hear the merits of the case and returned Mondo we Langa to state court where the outcome was already foreshadowed.


Four federal judges ordered a new trial for Mondo yet it never was granted and he has remained in maximum-security imprisonment all these long years, the victim of both J. Edgar Hoover and Warren Burger's political agendas.

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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