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Omaha judge rebutted by former Nebraska governor Frank Morrision in COINTELPRO case against Black Panthers

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Douglas County District Judge Russell Bowie recently issued a decision that Ed Poindexter, now serving a life sentence at the Nebraska State Penitentiary following his 1971 conviction for the bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard, was not eligible for a new trial.  Bowie's ruling was despite conflicting police testimony about where and who found dynamite in co-Defendant Mondo we Langa's basement and expert testimony that the voice on the tape of the emergency call that lured Minard to his death was not that of the state's chief witness, the confessed bomber, Duane Peak.

Poindexter, chairman of the local Black Panther chapter called the National Committee to Combat Fascism, was defended at trial by the public defender, then former Governor Frank Morrison.  Although Morrison had been a three-term governor and was a seasoned attorney he found himself presented with a case he didn't fully understand because the then secret COINTELPRO operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already targeted Poindexter and Langa, formerly David Rice, as "Black Nationalists" who were on the wrong end of a unknown and illegal campaign against the Black Panthers by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. 

Peak, who admitted planting the bomb and claimed to have made the emergency call to the police, gave six different statements to police that conflicted with his ultimate trial testimony.  Poindexter has now alleged that Morrision's representation was ineffective and failed to bring to the jury's attention the multiple versions of events.  Bowie decided: 

 

"Defendant argues that although several inconsistencies were discussed with Peak on the witness stand, they were never pointed out to the jury.  For whatever reason, the closing arguments in the original trial were not recorded, so the exact content of what was or was not pointed out to the jury is lost.  From a review of the record, I find that Mr. Peak was adequately cross-examined concerning his prior statements and defendant suffered no prejudice as a result of any inconsistent statements not inquired into by trial counsel."

 

Following his testimony against Poindexter and Langa, Peak was sentenced as a juvenile and served several years in juvenile detention facilities.  Poindexter and Langa each received life sentences.

 

Years after the trial a copy of the police emergency tape, never provided to the defense, emerged and in 2006 was subjected to voice analysis testing.  Expert witness Tom Owen opined the voice on the tape was not Peak's thus undermining his credibility and raising the specter of an unidentified partner in crime while the two Black Panther leaders continue to protest their innocence from prison.

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Morrison is now deceased but became acquainted with COINTELPRO and lived to see the surfacing of the long-missing emergency call recording.  Morrison also became aware of a FBI memo about the recording where it was disclosed the police did not want the tape used because it hurt their case.

 

In 1997, following the overturned conviction in California of Black Panther Geronimo Pratt, also a COINTELPRO target, Morrison spoke out in a public letter about the case.

 

"As a citizen, a former prosecutor, and Governor of this state, I abhor, detest and condemn the cowardly, cruel and unjustified murder of officer Minard.  My heart aches for his family.  The guilty parties should pay the penalty.  The self-confessed murderer was turned loose after a slap on the wrist."

 

"I now believe and always have believed that the true role of law enforcement is truth.  Real justice can only be built on truth.  I hope the Congress and other policy makers will reestablish this policy.  I feel both I and the system failed Ed Poindexter."

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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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